Posts Tagged ‘Harry Wolter’

The Stanford Coach

September 15, 2016
Harry Wolter while with the Highlanders

Harry Wolter while with the Highlanders

Continuing my look at members of my 1910 fantasy team, it’s time to write about one who had a decent, but not great baseball career. Harry Wolter wasn’t a bad ballplayer, but he found his calling in another job. He became a successful college coach.

Harry Wolter was of Hispanic origin on this father’s side, making him one of the first Hispanic players in the Major Leagues. There were others going back into the 19th Century, but Wolter was still among the first. He was born in Monterey, California in 1884, graduated from high school, and attended Santa Clara College. He graduated in 1906, again taking his place as one of the first college graduates in the big leagues. While still in college he played some minor league ball with the San Jose Prune Pickers (God, I love old-time minor league names). After graduation he again took up minor league employment, this time for the Fresno Raisin Eaters (see what I mean about old-time names). He was primarily a pitcher and racked up a 12-22 record with an ERA in the low threes. They decided to use him in the outfield when he wasn’t pitching and he hit .307.

All that got the Major Leagues interested in him. He began in Cincinnati in 1907, hit a buck 33 in four games, moved on to Pittsburgh where he went oh-for-one, then got into sixteen games for the Cardinals. All that got him a trip back to the minors. He played some for San Jose, refused an assignment to St. Paul, and ended up not playing at the big league level for all of 1908.

In 1909 he got another chance at the big leagues when the Red Sox picked him up. He had first to pay a fine for refusing to play in St. Paul, Doing so, he reported to Boston. He still pitched some (4-4 with a 3.51 ERA and more walks than strikeouts) but he was becoming primarily an outfielder. He hit .240, and ended up waived by Boston.

The Highlanders (now the Yankees) picked him up and made him an outfielder (primarily the left fielder). He remained with New York through 1913, hitting .277 in 396 games. During 1912, he dislocated a kneecap and spent most of the season injured. In need of new blood, the Yanks released him after 1913 and he ended up with Los Angeles for the minor league season.

With LA he was great. He won two batting titles (1914 and 1915), led his league in triples in both 1914 and 1916, and in hits in 1914. In 1915 his owner bet him he couldn’t drive in 40 runs over an unknown number of games. I checked several sources and there seems to be no agreement on the number of games involved. Whatever the number of games, Wolter got the 40 RBIs and a new suit worth $50, which was an expensive suit in 1915. While playing in the minors, he used his spring time to coach the Santa Clara College baseball team in both 1914 and 1915 (remember it was his alma mater).

In 1917, the Cubs brought him back to the big leagues for one last season. He hit .249 and ended up back in the minors. He stayed there through 1920.

During his off-season time, he’d begun working with Stanford University, actually coaching the baseball team in 1916. In 1923, needing a new head coach, the university called on Wolter to take the job. He remained there until 1949, with a break in 1944 and 1945 when the school did not field a team because of World War II. He retired and died in Palo Alto in 1970.

For his big league career he hit .270, had a .35 OBP, slugged .331, for an OPS of .655 (OPS+ 95) with 286 runs, 514 hits, 12 home runs, and 167 RBIs. His career WAR is 9.6. While at Stanford he won 277 games. That works out to about 11 wins a year in an era when colleges played much fewer games than they do today. He won conference titles in 1924, 1925, 1927, and in 1931.


1910: Highlanders Postmortem

September 13, 2010

For the first time since 1904, the New York Highlanders were significant contenders for the American League pennant. Ultimately they failed to win, finishing at 88-63, 14.5 games back in second place. They were the only team in either league to change managers during the season, going from George Stallings to Hal Chase. That occurred in late September 1910 and will be the subject of a later post.

The Highlanders (now the Yankees) hit well. They led the league in stolen bases and walks, were third in runs, fifth in hits (but made up for it in OBP with all those walks), and third in slugging. Shortstop Jack Knight was the only regular to hit .300, but first baseman Hal Chase, second baseman Frank La Porte, and outfielders Harry Wolter and Birdie Cree all hit above .260. Only third base man Jimmy Austin and catcher Ed Sweeney hit below .220. Chase led the team in RBIs, runs, and hits. More about him in the manager post.

The bench had six players participate in 20 or more games. One of them, backup outfielder Bert Daniels, led the team in stolen bases, hit .253, and was fourth on the team in walks. The other major  bench players hit below .250, with two hitting below .200 (and one below .150).

The Highlanders used only 10 pitchers all season, five of them starting 15 or more games. They did pretty well. Russ Ford was 26-6 with an ERA under two. Jack Quinn (who would pitch into his 40s and win a World Series as late as 1930) was 18-12, and 22-year-old lefty James “Hippo” Vaughn went 13-11 with a 1.83 ERA. Every pitcher had more strikeouts than walks, and all but one, Tom Hughes, had more innings pitched than hits.  At 7-9, Hughes was also the only major starter with a losing record.

For the Highlanders, the future looked bright. The pitching staff was good, the starting position players were good to adequate, depending on the position. What they lacked was a solid bench, but then so did everyone else. In 1911 they slipped back to fifth and finished at .500. What happened? Well, that manager change certainly didn’t help. Hal Chase wasn’t the best choice to lead a team, any team.

Opening Day, 1910: New York (AL)

April 18, 2010


Hal Chase

Considering what the American League team in New York has meant to the AL since 1920, it’s a little surprising to note that the Highlanders (they were to become the Yankees in the next decade) were not a significant factor in the league. They were formed in 1903 when the Baltimore franchise relocated to New York. They finished in the first division in ’03 and second in the league in ’04 (1.5 games out), then slid back in 1905, made second again in 1906, then fell back, finishing last in 1908. By 1909 they were back to fifth.

It was a team in some turmoil. Manager George Stallings (the “Miracle Man” of 1914) had a fairly solid infield, but there were problems in the rest of the positions. Hal Chase, Frank La Porte, Jack Knight, and Jimmy Austin held down the infield from first over to third in 1909 and all were back for 1910. but the infield bench was different. Gone was Kid Elberfeld. Earle Gardner, Roxy Roach, and Eddie Foster now handled the backup duties for the team.

The 1909 outfield was gone. Willie Keeler, Ray Demmitt, and Clyde Engle were replaced by Harry Wolter, Charlie Hemphill, and Birdie Cree. In 1909 Cree had been the fourth outfielder, but the others were new. Bert Daniels was now the outfielder sitting on the bench.

Ed Sweeney, the ’09 backup catcher, moved to the starting role in 1910 with Fred Mitchell the backup. Former starter Red Kleinow developed a sore arm and was traded after getting into only six games. Neither catcher would manage to hit .220.

The pitching underwent something of a makeover. Joe Lake, Jack Warhop, Lew Brockett, Jack Quinn, Joe Doyle, Tom Hughes, and Rube Manning had done the bulk of the starting for the Highlanders in 1909. Quinn, Warhop, and Hughes were back. Manning was now a bullpen man and Doyle lasted exactly three games before a trade. In their place were Russ Ford and Jim “Hippo” Vaughn.

Well, it wasn’t a bad team, in fact it would show significant rise in 1910. But it had one serious flaw. By 1910 manager Stallings was already voicing concerns about the reliability of first baseman Chase. There were allegations that Chase was taking money to lose games, that he was spreading gambling money to other players in return for shoddy play in critical games. There were allegations that he was playing just well enough to look reasonably good in losing efforts. There was no proof, and certainly nowhere for Stallings to go with his complaints but to the ownership who had an interest in protecting Chase who was a definite fan favorite (Judge Landis was 10 years in the future).  All this made for major clubhouse problems. It would take until 1919-1920 to garner the evidence to ban Chase. Until then he would be a cancer on the club, and any club for which he played.

Next: Cleveland