Posts Tagged ‘Harry Hooper’

Spoke

June 11, 2010

Tris Speaker

Normally when I try to wax eloquent about a Deadball Era player, I attempt to find some reasonably obscure one to say things about. This time I want to change that up and talk about a really good player, Tris Speaker. He, with suitable apologies to Eddie Collins, was arguably the third finest Deadball Era player behind only Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner.

He wasn’t an instant success, hitting a buck 58 in a seven game stint with Boston in 1907. In 1908 he hit all of .220. He was to hit below .300 exactly two more times: 1919, and his final season in 1928. His breakout year was 1910. He hit .340 and scored 92 runs. By 1912 he was teaming with Harry Hooper and Duffy Lewis to win the World Series and establish one of Stone Age baseball’s finest outfields. In the Series he did OK, without being spectacular, and provided a key hit in the final inning of the final game. That same year he won his only home run title (with 10) and led the American League in doubles. His .383 batting average was third behind both Cobb and Joe Jackson.

Speaker (nicknamed “Spoke” by this point) had good years in both 1913 and 1914 then got back to the World Series in 1915. The Sox won in five games and he hit .294 with no RBIs. Before the 1916 season Boston traded him to Cleveland for pitcher Sam Jones, infielder Fred Thomas, and $55,000 cash. Chalk it up to lack of money and terminal stupidity (And you thought Boston’s bad trades began with Babe Ruth, didn’t you?).

Speaker continued to play well in Cleveland. In 1916 he led the league in hits, doubles, slugging and finally won a batting title. In 1919, he became player-manager and, despite a drop in his own stats, guided the Indians to second place. In 1920 they won the AL pennant and the World Series. For Speaker 1920 was a career year and a challenge. He hit .388, at the time a career high (he later hit .389 in 1925), and developed a new platoon system (first base and both outfield corners). He dealt with the accidental beaning and death of shortstop Ray Chapman with class and brought up future Hall of Famer Joe Sewell to replace Chapman.

Speaker stayed as player-manager through 1926, playing well and adapting to the post-Stone Age world. In 1927 he went to Washington where he teamed with Walter Johnson in the latter’s final season. His batting was still good, but his fielding was beginning to suffer. Age was slowing him down. In 1928, he moved on to Philadelphia for one final season where he teamed with Ty Cobb (also in his last season). It wasn’t a good year, and Speaker gave up playing when the Athletics season ended. He has chosen for the Hall of Fame in 1937.

Speaker is still fifth in hits (and was second when he retired) and is the all-time leader in doubles. That stat has a special kicker to it. He’s 48 doubles ahead of the second man on the list, Pete Rose. That’s farther ahead of the second place guy than the other extra base hit leaders. Sam Crawford leads Cobb by 14 in triples and  Bonds in less than ten ahead of Aaron in home runs.

Speaker did some coaching and scouting after he retired. There were rumors he joined the Ku Klux Klan at one point. I can’t find a definitive source to verify (or refute) that. He was known for helping newly arriving black players, especially Larry Doby, when integration came to baseball. Maybe he was a Klansman or maybe he wasn’t, but it doesn’t seem to have carried over to his views on baseball talent.   

Speaker is one of those talents that transcends his era. There are a lot of players that I look at and feel they were great because of when they played. Move ’em twenty years forward or backward and they might be marginal players or even stars, but not all-time greats. Tris Speaker isn’t one of those. His numbers transcend his era. I rate him a top five center fielder ever (Cobb, DiMaggio, Mantle, Mays alphabetically, are the other four).

Opening Day, 1910: Boston (AL)

April 16, 2010

Tris Speaker

New manager Patsy Donovan (former manager Fred Lake was now with the other Boston team) had a good enough team he could stand pat for the most part. There were two changes from the 1909 starting roster that finished 9.5 games out of first. Both were significant.

The infield had one of them. Jake Stahl remained at first base, Heinie Wagner at short, and Harry Lord at third. The new guy was Larry Gardner, a good fielding second baseman who would turn into a very good hitter for Boston. His arm was good enough that in the latter part of his career he would shift to third and Boston wouldn’t skip a beat.

The other big change was in the outfield. Duffy Lewis took over left field from Harry Niles. Tris Speaker remained the center fielder and the three hitter. Harry Hooper, who was the fourth outfielder in 1909 took on the right field post and led off. There was a time when fans, pundits, and historians refered to this trio as the greatest outfield ever. You don’t hear that much today, but it’s been recent enough that I recall a few old timers using that kind of talk about Lewis, Speaker, Hooper. Both Speaker and Hooper ultimately made the Hall of Fame.

The catcher was Bill Carrigan. He wasn’t a particularly good hitter, but was a premier defensive specialist of his day. That seems to be a common theme of the era. The best teams have catchers who are good backstops and any hitting is gravy.

There were major trades during the 1910 season that really strengthened the Boston bench, but they began the season with Niles as the backup outfielder, Tom Madden the backup catcher, and a bunch of guys who didn’t get into 20 games as the infield.

The pitching staff was also fairly stable. The 1909 staff of Frank Arellanes, Eddie Cicotte, Smoky Joe Wood, and Charlie Chech was intact except for Chech. Ray Collins, Charley Hall, Ed Karger, and Charlie Smith were new and expected to solidify the mound. The problem was that most of them were inexperienced. Collins was a rookie in 1909, getting into only 12 games. Hall had pitched only 11 games the year before. The ones with experience weren’t very good. Smith came over from Washington where he hadn’t been very good. Karger was a career National Leaguer who hadn’t been particularly distinguished.

So Boston was improved, but the pitching was a question. If it reached its potential, then the team could move up. If not, well, it was going to be a long year.

Next: the White Sox

Perfect…..Sort of

February 15, 2010

The year 1917 had a couple of unusual pitching performances. In this post and a later one, I’m going to take a look at them.

The 23rd of June 1917 was a normal baseball day in Boston. The games (it was a doubleheader) were in the afternoon and the Washington Senators were in town. Fortunately for the Red Sox, Senators ace Walter Johnson wasn’t supposed to pitch so the first game should have been just another outing in an attempt to grab the pennant. Instead, the Sox fans were treated to a once ever happening, a perfect game in which the winning pitcher only faced 26 batters.

The Sox sent lefty ace Babe Ruth (you forgot he was a pitcher, didn’t you?) to the mound against Senators right-hander Doc Ayers. The Washington lineup was : Ray Morgan (2b), Eddie Foster (3b), Clyde Millan (cf), future Hall of Famer Sam Rice (rf), Joe Judge (1b), Charlie Jamieson (lf), Howard Shanks (ss), John Henry (c), and Ayres. Not exactly Murder’s Row. For the season, Rice would hit .302 and lead the team with 25 doubles, 69 RBIs, and 35 steals, while Judge would lead the team in slugging at .415. On the other hand, Jamieson was a backup outfielder who played in only 20 games that season and hit all of a buck 71.

It should have been a relatively easy day for Ruth, but he was already arguing with the umpire Brick Owens after the first pitch. On four straight pitches he walked leadoff hitter Morgan. Enraged, Ruth charged the ump and managed to slug him. Ruth was escorted off the field by police and catcher Pinch Thomas was also tossed out after apparently making some comments about the ump’s ancestors. In came Sam Agnew to catch, and to pitch the Sox called on 26 year old right-hander Ernie Shore.

Shore had been in the Majors for a while. He’d won more than he’d lost, managing 19 wins in 1915 and 17 in 1916. He’d split two decisions in the 1915 World Series victory over Philadelphia and had won both starts in the 1916 win over Brooklyn. So Shore wasn’t some bum being brought in to fill a hole, but he’d not expected to pitch that day and had only five warmup pitches before throwing his first real pitch.

Senators owner/manager Clark Griffith sent Morgan on the first pitch. Catcher Agnew threw him out by a comfortable margin. Then Shore set down Foster and Millan to end the inning. And that was it for the Senators. Shore shut them down completely, allowing no hits, no runs, and striking out two. At the end of the game the score stood 4-0 with Sox center fielder Tilly Walker, third baseman Larry Gardner,  catcher Agnew, and pitcher Shore scoring runs while right fielder Harry Hooper and Agnew each drove in a pair (remember, Agnew was in the lineup only because Pinch Thomas was tossed out in the first inning).

Shore had pitched at perfect game. Well, sort of. There was that nagging problem of Morgan reaching on a walk, but then Shore hadn’t pitched to him, Ruth had. And of course Shore was pitching when Morgan was thrown out at second. So all 27 outs were made with Shore on the mound, but he’d only pitched to 26 men. Hadn’t happened before, hasn’t happened since. For years baseball carried it as a perfect game, but noted Ruth had walked a man. Since the changes in rules it’s no longer considered “perfect” but merely a joint no hitter.

Shore played eight years in the Majors going 65-42 with a 2.47 ERA, 271 walks, and 310 stikeouts over 982 innings. Not a bad career, but certainly nothing special. He died in 1980, known for one game. It was a heck of a game.

BTW—-special piece of trivia. Harry Hooper played right field and led off for the Red Sox. In 1922 he was in the outfield for the White Sox when Charlie Robertson threw a perfect game for Chicago. As far as I can tell, Hooper is the only player to participate in two “perfect” games (but see below).

The First BoSox Dynasty (Interlude: 1912)

November 22, 2009

The first major American League dynasty was the 1910-14 Philadelphia A’s. In the period they made 4 World Series’, winning 3. The one they missed was 1912.

The Red Sox won the AL pennant by 14 games and went into the World Series against the New York Giants. By now most of these guys are obscure, so let’s take a moment and list them. The infield: Jake Stahl (who also managed), Steve Yerkes, Heinie Wagner, and Larry Gardner. The outfield was Duffy Lewis, Tris Speaker, and Harry Hooper. Bill Carrigan caught, Clyde Engle, Hick Cady, and Hugh Bradley were the only bench players who appeared in 40 or more games. The staff as Joe Wood, Hugh Bedient, Buck O’Brien, Charley Hall, and the only lefty was Ray Collins. No one else pitched 20 games.

It was a good series, famous for a tie, for Josh Devore’s great catch, and good pitching, but game 7 became an all-time classic. It wasn’t the first game 7, there had been one in 1909 (and in 1903 there had been a game 7, but it was a best of nine series that went 8), but it became of of the most famous of all Series games.

The score was 1-1 at the end of nine and the Giants put across a run in the 10th. The bottom of the 10th contained 2 of the most famous plays in dead ball history. Giant outfielder Fred Snodgrass dropped a fly ball (the “Snodgrass Muff”), and a foul pop dropped between catcher Chief Meyers and first baseman Fred Merkle (of 1908 fame). The “Muff” put a runner on, the foul gave Speaker another chance at the plate and he singled home the tying run. Two batters later Gardner’s sac fly ended the Series.

Boston couldn’t stop the A’s either of the next 2 seasons, although the other Boston team (the Braves) did win in 1914, but this series set the stage for the great run of 1915-18 that brought the Sox 3 World Series wins.

 

The First BoSox Dynasty (Fall and Rise)

November 21, 2009

In 1903 the Red Sox won the first Word Series. Although there was no Series in 1904, they finished first in the American League again Then in 1905 the wheels came off. In the next three years they finished 4th, last, and 7th (next-to-last). What happened?

To start with the pitching didn’t pan out. In 1904 five men (count ’em, 5) pitched every inning of every game. Of those five, only Cy Young, the oldest of  the crew at 37, continued on to a solid career. Bill Dinneen, the hero of ’03, went 11-14 in 1905, 8-19 in ’06, and was traded in 1907. Only Tannehill had another 20 win season for the Sox (1905 with 22 wins).

The hitting hadn’t been that great anyway, and continued to deteriorate. Take a look at the catcher. In 1904 Lou Criger, intrepid backstop, hit .211. It was downhill from there. He hit .198 in 1905. How to solve the problem? Bring in Charlie Armbruster, who managed to hit a whopping buck forty-four. So back to Criger who hit .181 and .190 over the next two seasons. This is the worst example of what happened, but the hitting problems were pretty much team-wide.

It began to change in 1909. The Sox picked up Bill Carrigan to catch (he could at least hit .200), Tris Speaker became a regular. The next season Harry Hooper and Larry Gardner became regulars, and in 1910 Duffy Lewis joined the outfield. That set the stage for 1912.