Posts Tagged ‘Harry Davis’

The Mackmen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Opening Day 1911: AL

April 13, 2011

As backup first baseman Harry Davis

In continuing to celebrate Opening Day one hundred years ago yesterday, here’s a brief look at the American League.

Connie Mack’ Philadelphia Athletics were American League Champions and in 1911 successfully defended that championship. They started slow with a losing record in April (6-7), then took off, winning the pennant by 13/5 games over Detroit. Philly led the AL in runs, RBIs, home runs, slugging, and batting average. In pitching they were second in ERA, strikeouts, and shutouts.

Individually, Ty Cobb won another batting title, this time hitting .400 (.420) for the first time (and the first of two consecutive  seasons). Joe Jackson (“Shoeless” Joe) at Cleveland hit .408, the highest total in the  20th Century to not win a batting title. Cobb also picked up the RBI title with 127. It was his last. In home runs, A’s third baseman Frank Baker hit 11 to win the first of his four consecutive titles. Cobb picked up the initial Chalmers Award, the earliest 20th Century MVP award.

The pitching was good, if not as dominant as the National League. Jack Coombs of Philadelphia led the AL with 28 wins, but posted an ERA over 3, which was huge for the age. His teammate Eddie Plank tied Senators ace Walter Johnson for most shutouts with six while Vean Gregg of Cleveland went 23-7 and won the ERA title at 1.81. Beginning in 1910, Walter Johnson won every strikeout title through 1919 except one, 1911. He lost the title to Ed Walsh of Chicago.  Walsh had 255 whiffs to Johnson’s third-place total of  207. Joe Wood at Boston came in between them with 231.

On a totally different note, it was Cy Young’s final season. He was 44 and through. He went 3-4 with an ERA of 3.92 at Cleveland before being traded to Boston of the National League. Boston finished last, Young went 4-5 (7-9 overall), but managed two final shutouts in 11 starts. He finished with 511 wins and had an award named for him.

Postseason saw the A’s pick up their second straight championship (it would stretch to 3 in 4 years). They knocked off the Giants in six games with Coombs and Plank each winning a game while Chief Bender picked up the other two wins, including the final game. They out hit the Giants .244 to .175, outscored them 27 to 13, and had an ERA of 1.29 to 2.83. Baker hit two key home runs that either won or tied games and earned him the nickname “Home Run” Baker for the rest of his life. He also hit .375 and drove in five runs. In a strange twist, Mack rested his first baseman Stuffy McInnis (.321, 23 stolen bases, 77 RBIs in 126 games) and started backup Harry Davis (.197, 22 RBIs, and a single home run in 57 games) in every game, Mc Innis only showing up in a mop up role late in game six (a 13-2 blowout). I have been totally unable to find out why. It worked. Davis hit only .208, but drove in five runs and scored three.

So 1911 was a success for the American League. For the first time it won back-to-back World Series’. It would be the beginning of a trend that would see the AL win eight of the next 10 (1911-13, 1915-18, 1920).

1910: Athletics Postmortem

October 8, 2010

Well, the Athletics were world champions at the end of the 1910 season, so in many ways it’s harder to look at them than at any other team. No matter what you see, you can’t get around the fact that ultimately they won. And of course if you know your history, you’ll know they are going to dominate the American League through 1914.

A simple look at the World Series should have frightened the entire American League. The A’s won in five games and only game four, the lone Cubs victory, was close. The A’s not only won the Series, they dominated. They scored 35 runs to 15 by Chicago. Their ERA was 2.76, Chicago’s 4.70. The team average was above .300 (.316). This was a formidable team and was going to be for years.

The heart of the team rested two places: the infield and the staff. The infield consisted of two future Hall of Famers: Eddie Collins at second and Frank Baker at third (the “Home Run” Baker nickname would not come until 1911). Both generally enter the argument for greatest player at their position, although Baker is generally in the bottom half of the top ten while Collins usually figures in the top three (Rogers Hornsby and Joe Morgan the other two names that most often show up with him.). Jack Barry was a good enough shortstop who fielded his position well and hit well enough to contribute. Stuffy McInnis replaced aging Harry Davis at first base and was an upgrade. The entire group was known as “The $100,000 Infield” (a lot of money in 1910), maybe the great infield of the Deadball Era..

The pitching staff was equally excellent, at least at the top. Hall of Famers Eddie Plank and Chief Bender are the most famous of Connie Mack’s hurlers, but in 1910 and 1911, Jack Coombs may have been the best. Behind these three were Cy Morgan and newcomer Harry Krause. Neither was the quality of Plank, Bender, or Coombs; and Morgan,at 32,was beginning to get a little long in the tooth (as was Plank at 35). Each would have one more decent year, then fade. In an era of three man rotations that wasn’t as critical as it would be today.

The rest of the team wasn’t bad, but not the quality of the infield and staff. Like Harry Davis, it ws aging. Outfielder Danny Murphy was 33, Topsy Hartsel was 36. Murphy managed to hit .300 with a team leading 18 triples, but Hartsel hit only .221 and ended up losing his spot to mid-season trade Bris Lord (who hit .276). Center fielder Rube Oldring managed .308 and was second in slugging at .430. Not bad numbers and if they held up the next season Philadelphia would reasonably expect to repeat.

Neither catcher was particularly special. Jack Lapp hit .234 and Ira Thomas .278 with no pop at all. A former catcher himself, Mack got quite a bit out of both by essentially platooning them. Lapp caught 63 games, Thomas 60. If you look at A’s catchers in the entire era, Mack is very good about not overworking them (and to some degree that’s true all across the big leagues) and manages to get more out of his catchers than most other teams.

All in all the A’s are set for a long run as contenders. That had happened before and since and teams set for long runs have fallen flat. For the A’s it was going to work out. they have three more World Series experiences in their near future, and two rings. 

This is the last look at a specific team in 1910. In my last post on the centennial of the season, I want to look at why 1910 matters to us today. Then I’ll finally get on to different things.

College Men

September 7, 2010

As something of a followup to the post on Orval Overall, I decided to look up the number of players on the 1910 Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Athletics who attended college. Here’s the list I found. I don’t guarantee it’s complete:
Chicago:

Overall, Ginger Beaumont, Ed Reulbach, Frank Chance. There is some dispute as to whether Chance ever actually attended college or not.

Philadelphia:

Harry Davis, Jack Barry, Eddie Collins, Morrie Rath, Heinie Heitmuller, Eddie Plank, Chief Bender, Jack Coombs

Not all these players graduated. There is some dispute about Plank. He apparently attended the prep school that went with Gettysburg College and played on the college baseball team, but sources vary on whether he ever actually took classes at the college. Heitmuller had left the team prior to the World series.

So it’s not that long a list, but longer than I expected.

Some Miscellaneous Stats

May 3, 2010

I just got my latest copy of the magazine Baseball Digest. In the back there are several pages dedicated to stats. These are done by decade and show the top ten players in a number of hitting and pitching categories per decade. Each decade is done from the zero through the nine, thus the first is 1900-1909, the last 2000-2009. There are some interesting stats available.
First, there’s nothing particularly magical about a decade. Most good players have careers that stretch across more than one, and thus a list like this skews the numbers. But it does provide a handy way to group the stats. I don’t propose to put the list here; you can go to the magazine website and probably find it (I didn’t check). But I’d like to comment on some that I find interesting, the hitters first.

1. You get a feel for just how much Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb dominated the first two decades of the 20th Century. The categories listed are runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, stolen bases, RBI, batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage. Between 1900 and 1909, Wagner is first in all but triples, where he come in second, and in home runs where he comes in tied for fifth. Some of the numbers are fairly close, for instance he leads Nap Lajoie in batting by only .006, but in other areas he’s hugely ahead (almost 200 hits, over 200 runs). Cobb’s the same in the period 1910-1919. He leads all categories except doubles where he is second and home runs where he fails to make the top ten. Again he’s sometimes close (.030 in slugging %), but in other cases he’s way ahead (120 hits, 150 runs). No one else can compare with the two of them in the first twenty years of the century. No one else, even Babe Ruth in the 1920s, is as dominant as Wagner and Cobb.

2. The offensive explosion of the 1920’s is really noticable. In runs, Babe Ruth is first and he’s 300 ahead of Cobb and 350 ahead of Wagner. In the 1920’s Wagner’s 1014 runs scored would rank third as would Cobb’s 1051. Doubles, home runs, RBIs are very much the same.

3. You see how quickly integration of the Major Leagues affects baseball. By the 1950s black players are already getting into the top 10 lists although few of them played the entire decade. Minnie Minoso is on the list in hits, doubles, stolen bases, RBIs, triples, and on-base percentage. Hank Aaron is third in batting, Willie Mays fourth, and Minoso (again) is eighth. The decades of the 1960s and 1970s are full of black players who make the lists. You can see the gradual shift away from black players occur as they begin to be a lesser percentage of the lists in the 1990s and 2000s, the same time as Hispanics increasingly take center stage.

4. There are some really surprising people who are very high up on some of the lists. In the 1900-1909 period, Roy Thomas is second in OBP (.417 to .411). I kind of vaguely knew who he was, but this list made me take a look at him and begin a reevaluation of his abilities. Harry Davis’ career ends at about the same time the A’s become a dominant team, so he’s generally overlooked as a major player in Athletics history. Did you know in the period 1900-1909 he leads the majors in home runs, is in the top five in both RBIs and slugging percentage?  Want to know a secret? Neither did I. There are lots of these. Tris Speaker is second in doubles in the 1920s (to Rogers Hornsby) and I never think of him as a 1920s player. Vada Pinson, who is totally overlooked today is second in the 1960s in doubles, third in hits, eighth in stolen bases, and fifth in runs. Willie Stargell who isn’t exactly obscure, but isn’t the first name you’d think of, leads the 1970s in home runs (by four over Reggie Jackson). Who knew? I would have guessed Jackson.

5. Some players get shafted by the way the decades are compiled. Jackie Robinson, whose career is 1947-1956, ends up with numbers compiled almost equally in two half-decades. He makes the lists once (1940s stolen bases he’s 10th).  

There are other things, but I wanted to give you only a flavor of the lists. See if you can find them. My guess is they are on-line somewhere, not just on the magazine website. I’ll do pitchers later.

Opening Day, 1910: Philadelphia (AL)

April 15, 2010

 

J. Franklin "Home Run" Baker

The Philadelphia Athletics were a premier American League team from the formation of the league in 1901. In 1902 they won the second pennant. In 1905 they played in the second World Series, losing in five games. Between 1906 and 1909 manager Connie Mack retooled his team so that it finished only 3.5 games behind Detroit in 1909. In 1910 the team was poised to take that 3.5 game jump.

As a contender in 1909, the A’s did little roster change in 1910. The heart of the team was its infield and its pitching staff. The infield consisted of Harry Davis at first, Eddie Collins at second, Jack Barry at short, and Frank Baker at third (“Home Run” Baker would come in 1911). Both Collins and Baker were destined for the Hall of Fame. The back up consisted of Simon Nicholls and eighteen year old phenom Stuffy McInnis (who would replace Davis at first in 1911). The quality and endurance of the infield was such that neither man played more than 21 games.

The outfield wasn’t as good as the infield, but there was quality there also. Former second baseman Danny Murphy was in right field and led the team in home runs in 1909 (with all of 5). Rube Oldring was a speedy center fielder who didn’t have much of an arm, and the left fielder was Topsy Hartsel, who at age 35 was getting old.Hartsel had replaced equally aged Bob Ganley. Heinie Heitmuller and Scotty Barr provided backup.

The catcher situation was fairly fluid. Mack, an ex-catcher, seems to have been aware of the way catching wore on a player and subsequently his catchers didn’t spend a lot of time behind the plate. In 1909 Ira Thomas caught for 84 games, Paddy Livingston for 64, and Jack Lapp for 19.  In 1910 Lapp took over as the primary catcher, but only caught three more games than Thomas. Livingston became the third catcher.

A great key to Mack teams was his pitching staff. He had a good one in 1910. Back from the previous year were future Hall of Famers Eddie Plank, on his way to a career 300 wins, and Chief Bender.  Harry Krause won 18 games in 1909 and Cy Morgan came from Boson during the 1909 season to win 16 games. Both were still available, as was Jimmy Dygert the primary bullpen man. Jack Coombs had been around since 1906 and had steadily risen in the A’s rotation. The new season was to be his breakout year.

So by 1910, the A’s were ready to challenge Detroit. With a solid infield, a good outfield, and excellent pitching they could do so. With a bit of luck they could pick up the 3.5 games they needed to hoist Philadelphia’s third pennant.

Next: the Red Sox

The First American League Dynasty

January 7, 2010

The American League was formed in 1901. For the first six years no team won more than two in a row. Then in 1907 the Tigers with Ty Cobb won the first of three consecutive pennants. Unfortunately for them, they lost all three World Series’, two to the Cubs and one to the Pirates. Somehow going 0-3 does not make you a dynasty. Beginning in 1910 the league gets its first true dynasty, the Philadelphia Athletics.

The Athletics were formed in 1901 by Connie Mack and had won pennants in 1902 and 1905, losing the World Series in ’05 four games to one. By 1910 Mack had rebuilt the A’s into a formidable team that was to win 4 of the next 5 AL pennants and 3 World Series out of 4. They did it with pitching and one heck of a fine infield.

The infield, known for a while as “The $100,000 Infield” (which was what they were supposed to be worth, not what Mack paid them) consisted of first baseman Harry Davis, a former RBI champ (05 and 06) doubles champ (05 and 07), and home run leader (04-07); future Hall of Famer and concensus top three all-time second sacker, Eddie Collins; slick fieldling shortstop Jack Barry; and future Hall of Famer J. Franklin “Home Run” Baker at third (the “Home Run” nickname comes during the five year run. In 1911 Stuffy McInnis, one of the better fielding first basemen of his day, and no slouch with a bat, replaced Davis.

The outfield consisted of  Danny Murphy, Rube Oldring, Topsy Hartsel  in 1910, with Briscoe Lord replacing Hartsel in 1911. Jimmy Walsh replaced Lord in 1913, and Amos Strunk had taken Walsh’s spot in 1914. None were considered superior outfielders but most could hit some. Murphy was a converted infielder (2nd base).

Jack Lapp, Ira Thomas, and Wally Schang split tme as catcher, with Schang being far and away the best of the lot. He’d go on to pick up more World Series experience with the Babe Ruth Yankees of the 1920s.

The pitching staff was considered the strongest of the era with future Hall of Famer Chief Bender as Mack’s favorite. Left-hander Eddie Plank ended up with over 300 wins and a slot in Cooperstown. Maybe the best of the lot was Colby Jack Coombs. He won 31 and 28 games in 1910 and 1911 then got hurt in 1913 and was done as an Athletic. He resurfaced in 1916 with the Brooklyn Dodgers and won their only World Series victory that pennant winning season. Additionally Hall of Famer Herb Pennock made a brief appearance in 1913 and 14  winning 13 games.

So how’d they do? In 1910 they won 102 games finishing first by 14.5 games and defeating the Cubs in five World Series games. In 1911 they won 101 games finishing first by 13.5 games and knocking off the Giants in the World Series in 6 games the series where Baker won his nickname). They lost in 1912 to the Red Sox, finishing 15 games out in third. In 1913 they rebounded winning the pennant by 6.5 games and posting 96 wins. Again they faced the Giants in the World Series and this time took only five games to win the series. They last good year was 1914 when the won 99 games, finishing first by 8.5 games. This time they faced the “Miracle Braves” and lost the World Series in four straight. It was the first World Series sweep (sorta. The Tigers won no games in 1907, but there had been one tie.) In 1915 Mack sold Collins and Barry, and Baker held out. Both Plank and Bender went to the fledgling Federal League. The result was a last place finish for Philadelphia and in 1916 a record of 36-117 (for a long time that was a record for futility in the AL). The dynasty was gone, replaced by the new one in Boston.