Posts Tagged ‘Hughie Jennings’

Losing at .400

October 25, 2018

Ed Delahanty

It’s been a long time since anyone won a batting title by hitting .400. You have to go all the way back to Ted Williams in 1941 to find one. But you know what’s kind of odd? There are a handful of guys who’ve hit .400 and not won the batting title. Here’s a quick list of them.

First, one of my caveats. This includes on the period since the beginning of the National League in 1876. In the old National Association there were a couple of occasions when someone hit .400 and didn’t win the batting title, but those were incredibly short seasons. There surely were players who hit over .400 in the even older Association of the 1860s and didn’t win a title, but we don’t have enough information to determine them. So it’s at least easier to find the players since 1876 (OK, I’ll admit to being lazy).

1887-Tip O’Neill wins the American Association (it was a Major League in 1887) batting title at .435. Runner up Pete Browning hit .402.

1894-There was something in the water in Philadelphia in 1894 when the entire City of Brotherly Love outfield, and their primary outfield sub all hit .400. Billy Hamilton hit .403. Ed Delahanty hit .405. Sam Thompson hit .415. That was the starting outfield in Philly. Super sub Tuck Turner hit .418. And none of them won the batting title. Boston outfielder Hugh Duffy managed to hit a still record .440 to take the batting title.

1895-Delahanty again hit over .400, this time coming in at .404. Again he lost the batting title. This time to fellow Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett who hit .405.

1896-This time Hughie Jennings hit over .400 by ending up at .401. Burkett again won the title. He managed .410.

That does it for the 19th Century and I suppose I ought to take a moment to remind you that the National League moved the mound back to 60′ 6″ just before the big outbreak of .400 hitting in 1894. Some hitters adjusted more quickly and obviously a lot of pitchers didn’t.

1911-Shoeless Joe Jackson hit .408, which is the record high in the 20th Century for a hitter that didn’t win a batting title. He lost to Ty Cobb who hit .420.

1922-Cobb was on the other end of hitting .400 and losing the batting title in 1922. He hit .401 and lost to George Sisler who hit .420. Interestingly enough, Rogers Hornsby won the National League title at .401. Had he been in the American League, he would have also joined the batting title losers who hit .400.

Thought you might like to know.

The Original “Death to Flying Things”

May 5, 2016
The 1865 Atlantic

The 1865 Atlantic

Old time player Bob Ferguson is frequently known by the nickname “Death to Flying Things.” It indicates an ability to track down and catch fly balls extraordinarily well. But before Ferguson there was another player with the same nickname. Let me take a moment to introduce you to John Curtis Chapman  (not to be confused with John Chapman of “Johnny Appleseed” fame).

Jack Chapman (the man at bottom left in the picture above) was born in Brooklyn in 1843. By 1860 he was already a well-known local player. He hooked up with the Putnams in ’60, moved to the Enterprise in ’61, and finally found a home with the Atlantic in 1862. He settled in to right field where he became known as an outstanding fielder (hence the nickname). He remained with the Atlantic through the 1866 season, then spent 1867 with the Quaker Cities of Philadelphia. He moved back to the Atlantic in 1868 (there is some speculation that money changed hands) and helped them to another National Association of Base Ball Players championship. He stayed through 1870, participating, as the left fielder, in the famous victory over the Cincinnati Red Stockings (as did Dickey Pearce mentioned in a previous post).

In 1871 the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed. The Atlantic chose not to join and Chapman left the team for the Eckfords, another team that didn’t join the new league (I’m not sure why). He remained there until 1874 when the Atlantic finally joined the Association. Rejoining his old team, he played right field hitting .264.  The next year he was with St. Louis, and when the Association folded after the 1875 season he played one year, 1876, in the National League.

He took over as player-manager for the Louisville National League team in 1876. He did more managing than playing, getting into only 17 games. As manager he was in charge of the team the next season when it became involved in the first NL scandal. The team was suspected of throwing games late in the season. It turned out the allegations were true, but there was no evidence that Chapman knew of the plot to lose games, but he lost his job anyway.

He got back to the big league as a manager in 1878 in Milwaukee, finished sixth, and started looking for another job. By 1882 he was at Worcester, then moved to Detroit and Buffalo, before returning to Louisville, now in the American Association, in 1889. In 1890 he won the AA pennant with the Colonels, playing Brooklyn in a postseason series. The series ended three games to three with a tie. The two teams were supposed to finish the series to open the next season, but the Association was in deep financial trouble and the NL, in an attempt to destroy its rival, refused to replay the tie or to sanction a series for the 1891 season. Louisville finished eighth and the AA collapsed at the end of the season. Louisville was one of four AA teams chosen to play in the now 12-team NL. Chapman managed 54 games before being fired. It was his last managerial job in the majors. He finished with a record of 351-502 and the 1890 AA pennant. He did make one notable find in 1891 when he signed Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings to his first contract.

In retirement he ran a liquor store and died in Brooklyn in 1916. He’s buried in Greenwood Cemetery along with a number of baseball’s pioneering players. With this post I’ve covered three of the nine member of the Atlantic pictured above (interestingly enough one from each line): Joe Start earlier, Dickey Pearce recently, and Chapman. Six to go.

Chapman's grave from Find a Grave

Chapman’s grave from Find a Grave

 

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1927

May 3, 2016

The year 1927 was a big deal in baseball. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs, Lou Gehrig became a star. Walter Johnson retired. Into all that I drop my Hall of Fame inductees for the year.

Hughie Jennings

Hughie Jennings

A leading shortstop in the 1890s, Hughie Jennings helped lead the Baltimore Orioles to National League pennants in 1894, 1895, and 1896 along with Temple Cup victories in 1896 and 1897. After the founding of the American League he led the Detroit Tigers to consecutive World Series appearances in 1907, 1908, and 1909.

Cal McVey

Cal McVey

A stalwart of the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869 and 1870 he transitioned to the National Association helping the Boston team to championships in 1872, 1874, and 1875. In 1873 he managed Baltimore to a third place finish. With the forming of the National League, he joined the team in Chicago and helped lead it to the first National League title.

Now the commentary:

1. Jennings is one of those people who isn’t a Hall of Famer based on either his playing, his coaching, or his managing. But put them all together and you’ve got someone who made a legitimately large contribution to baseball. There used to be a joke that Jennings was in the Hall of Fame because while Detroit manager he was able to keep Ty Cobb from killing a teammate, or another Tiger from killing Cobb. You could make a case for that.

2. McVey is more problematic. He was one of the first really good players who had a substantial career in the National Association, with the pre-Association teams (Cincinnati), and went on to a couple of good years in the NL. By 1927 he was largely forgotten, but he died in 1926 and there were a spate of articles I found mentioning the passing of an era and all that kind of thing. McVey wouldn’t be the first player who got in on a sympathy vote after he died (or was at death’s door), so I took the chance to add him based on that sympathy vote. Having said all that, if I had a vote at the real Hall of Fame, I’m not at all sure I’d vote for McVey (just so you know).

3. And having said that, McVey becomes what is most probably the last of the really old-time players to make this little Hall of Fame. Essentially 19th Century players are forgotten by 1927 almost to a man. I still have a couple on my holdover list, but that’s more for my information than it is a belief that they could be inducted. Guys like Lip Pike for instance still show. But by 1927 Pike had been dead for 25 years and I find no evidence of an impending baseball nostalgia craze about to occur. I reserve the right to change my mind if I find things pointing to a revival in interest in 19th Century baseball. The retirement of someone like John McGraw might trigger it. Will let you know.

4. There’s one really good choice coming up in 1928 and then in a couple of years a large group of Negro League players start showing up (guys like Rube Foster, Louis Santop, Spottswood Poles, etc.), I plan to use a system which does not allow for more than one Negro League person a year (I have enough trouble seeing one get in, let alone more than one) and making sure he is always accompanied by a white player (or exec). I can’t imagine any 1920s Hall of Fame honoring a black man without a white counterpart. I just can’t feature a ceremony inducting only black players. The image of a black man standing on a Hall of Fame stage alone is simply something I doubt the US was ready for in 1928, or 1929, or anytime else in the run of my Hall (through 1934). It is going to make for a couple of odd pairings, but I can see no other way around it.

5. Here’s the list of everyday players on the list for 1928: Frank Baker, Jack Barry, Cupid Childs, Harry Davis, Mike Donlan, Jack Doyle, Art Fletcher, Bill Lange, Tommy Leach, Herman Long, Bobby Lowe, Tommy McCarthy, Clyde Milan, Hardy Richardson, Wildfire Schulte, Ct Seymour, Roy Thomas, Mike Tiernan, Joe Tinker, George Van Haltren.

6. The pitchers: Bob Carruthers, Jack Chesbro, Dave Foutz, Brickyard Kennedy, Sam Leever, Tony Mullane, Deacon Phillippe, Jesse Tannehill, Doc White, Smokey Joe Wood

7. And the contributors: umpires Bob Emslie, Hank O’Day, Tim Hurst (with Hurst serving a short stint as NL President); owners Charles Ebbets, August Herrmann, Ben Shibe, Connie Mack (who did a little managing); manager George Stallings; NL President Henry C. Pulliam; pioneers Lip Pike, William R. Wheaton; and Negro Leaguer Home Run Johnson.

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Bucky Harris

November 10, 2015
Bucky Harris

Bucky Harris

1 Stanley Harris was born in 1896 in Port Jervis, New York and grew up in Pittstown, Pennsylvania.

2. He left school early to work in a coal mine.

3. He played both basketball and baseball when not working and came to the attention of Hughie Jennings, Tiger manager and Pittstown native. He was signed to his first contract at age 19.

4. He spent 1916 through 1919 in the minors playing primarily with the International League’s Buffalo Bisons.

5. He was signed by Washington in 1920, became the Senators regular second baseman in 1921.

6. He became player-manager of the Washington Senators in 1924 at age 27. At the time he was the youngest player-manager in American League history. He’s still the second youngest behind Lou Boudreau.

7. His 1924 and 1925 Senators won the American League pennant and the 1924 version won the World Series.

8. In 1929 he was traded to the Tigers where he both played and managed. He last played a game in 1931, but managed Detroit through 1933. He also managed Boston, the Senators (for the second time), and the Phillies between 1934 and 1943.

9. He was fired from Philly in 1943 and spent the next three years as manager and general manager of the Buffalo Bisons. During this period he was one of several witnesses to appear before Judge Landis concerning the Phillies’ owners gambling on baeball. The upshot was the banning of Phils owner William Cox from baseball.

10. He was hired to manage the New York Yankees in 1947 and won the World Series that season. In 1948 he finished third (two games back and with 94 wins) and was fired.

11. Harris managed minor league San Diego in 1949, then completed his managerial career by managing Washington for a third time and Detroit for a second stint.

12. He worked in the Red Sox front office from 1957 through 1960. In 1959 he became general manager and was instrumental in bringing Pumpsie Green to Boston thus integrating the last Major League team. There is some dispute about whether Harris was committed to integration or simply thought the team would be better with Green on the roster.

13. He served as a scout (White Sox) and a special assistant (Senators–now the Rangers) until his retirement in 1971. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1975 and died in 1977.

Harris grave from Find a Grave

Harris grave from Find a Grave

Star Managers

December 5, 2013

Recently my son reminded me that Eddie Mathews, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, and Ted Williams all have something in common other than being Hall of Famers with 500 home runs. Each was a manager with an overall losing record. Mathews’ .481 is the highest winning percentage of the four. He wondered if I knew that (I didn’t).

It got me to thinking about how commonplace an idea it is that great players don’t make great managers. The great managers are guys like Earl Weaver who never got to the big leagues,  Tony LaRussa who was a marginal player (he hit a buck-99 in 132 games), or Walter Alston who got all of one at bat in the Major Leagues. And no one is going to question that the three of them were great managers. But let me point out a small handful of exceptional players who made pretty fair managers.

1. John J. McGraw has the second most wins of any manager ever, and the one with the most wins of any manager who didn’t also own the team (Connie Mack). McGraw was a true star in the late 19th Century. He was the heart and soul of the most famous of all 19th Century teams, the 1890s Baltimore Orioles. He hit well, played a fine third base, ran well, and was unmatched at on field shenanigans.

2. Hughie Jennings was a teammate of McGraw’s and led Detroit to three consecutive World series appearances (1907-09). The Tigers lost all of them, but the next time they got the Series was 1934.

3. Yogi Berra led two New York teams to the World Series: the Yankees in 1964 and the Mets in 1973. Both teams lost.

4. Joe Torre, who admittedly wasn’t the player McGraw and Berra were, won four championships as a manager after winning an MVP as a player.

There are also a number of player-managers who were both successful managers and star players. Bucky Harris, Frank Chance, and Joe Cronin are only three examples.

So while it’s true that being a great player doesn’t necessarily translate to a great manager, it also doesn’t mean the guy is a disaster as manager.

Trifecta

July 19, 2012

Bet you didn’t know Ty Cobb could smile, did you?

Never having gotten to the big leagues myself, I can only speculate here, but my guess is that it must hurt deeply to lose a World Series. The Texas Rangers have now lost two in a row which must be even more heart breaking. I can’t imagine what it must be like to lose three in a row, something that Texas could do this year. If they do, they’ll tie a record. It’s happened twice, losing three in a row. They occurred 100 years ago and occurred almost back-to-back. Here’s the story of one of those teams.

The 1907-1909 Detroit Tigers were the first Detroit team to cop a pennant since the Wolverines of the 1880s. They were a loaded team with a lot of star players for the era. It was a team that could hit and hit a lot. With an outfield of  Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford (with either Davy Jones or Matty McIntyre holding down left field) they led the American League in runs and hits all three seasons, led in doubles and triples twice each, in batting average, on base percentage, and OPS all three years, and in slugging the first two seasons. Cobb won batting titles all three years and the triple crown in 1909. Crawford picked up a home run title in 1908.

The problem was the pitching. During the three-year period from 1907 through 1909 the Tigers finished third, sixth, and third in ERA; fifth, fourth, and fifth in shutouts; never finished higher than sixth (in an eight team league) in hits allowed; and the best they could do with runs scored against them was third in 1909. Mainstays George Mullin, Ed Killian, and Bill Donovan had great win-loss records, but those records were very much a reflection of the team hitting.

In 1907, led by manager Hughie Jennings, they won the American League pennant by a game and a half (over Philadelphia) and were then swept by the Cubs in the World Series. Well, not exactly swept. There was one game that was called on account of darkness with the score tied. In 1908, they won the pennant by a half game over Cleveland (there was a rain out that didn’t have to be made up under the rules of the day) and had to face Chicago again in the World Series. This time they managed one win as the Cubs won their last ever World Series. By 1909, tired of playing the Cubs, Detroit decided to try its luck with Pittsburgh. The Tigers won the AL pennant by three and a half games (again over Philadelphia), and lost a hard-fought World Series. The Series went seven games with the Pirates winning all the odd-numbered games and Detroit taking all the even-numbered games (only time that’s happened). Their run was over in 1910 as the Athletics finally rushed passed Detroit to take three of the next four pennants (Boston had the other).

There’s a common perception that Cobb did poorly in postseason play. That’s kind of true. He hit less than .250 in both 1907 and 1909 with only ten hits and two stolen bases. He did, however, drive in five runs in ’09 (none in ’07)  and scored three in 1909 (again none in 1907). In 1908 he hit .368, drove in four runs (in five games), scored three runs, had seven hits (all but one a single), and stole two bases. So he’s a best a mixed bag. Crawford, who doesn’t suffer from the same perception, never hit above .250, had one home run, eight RBIs, and one stolen base in the combined three Series’. Again not a particularly great stat line. As a rule, the less said about the pitching the better.

After 1909, Detroit fell back in the standings not resurfacing in the World Series until the 1930s. Cobb played into the 1920s, Crawford into the teens. Both failed to make another postseason.

1910: Tigers Postmortem

September 11, 2010

At the beginning of the 1910 baseball season Detroit was the three-time reigning American League champion. True, Hughie Jennings’ Tigers had lost three consecutive World Series match ups, but still they were champion. In 1910 they finished third at 86-68, 18 games out of first.

The team finished second in batting, walks,  home runs, and slugging; first in runs and RBIs. Across the board they hit well. The big stars Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford had good years, Cobb leading the AL in slugging, runs scored, and winning (or losing) a disputed batting title to Nap LaJoie. Crawford led the league in RBIs and triples. Every starter except catcher Oscar Stanage hit above .250 and had double figure stolen bases. Except for Stanage and third outfielder Davy Jones, everyone had more than ten doubles.

As usual for the era, the bench wasn’t much. Only back up catcher Boss Schmidt hit .250, but of the six players appearing in 20 or more games, only one hit below .200. Both Schmidt and backup outfielder Matty McIntyre had over 20 RBIs. It seems as if almost no one in the era had much of a bench.

It was the pitching that created the fall off for Detroit. In some ways Tigers pitching had always been a reflection of the team’s hitting prowess. Although most of the pitchers who started more than 10 games had winning records (topped by George Mullin’s 21-12 record) all had high ERA’s for the Deadball age and had low walks to strikeout ratios (Mullin actually walked more men than he struck out). Each did pitch more innings than they allowed hits.  At 27, they were tied with a number of other teams for the second oldest staff in the league (behind Chicago).

And in some ways that’s part of the problem. The Tigers are aging. Four of their starting position players are already 30 or older, as is McIntyre the backup outfielder. Backup catcher Schmidt is 29 (but on the other hand, Cobb is only 23). To someone my age that doesn’t sound old, but for ball players in the 1910 era they are getting on in years. Without some good replacements available to spell or replace the aging players the team could be in trouble in the future. Looking at the bench, those replacements aren’t available.

Opening Day, 1910: Detroit

April 14, 2010

Sam Crawford

Today marks the actual opening day of the 1910 season. One hundred years ago baseball began its season anew. And Detroit was the returning American League Champion.

The Tigers were three-time defending AL champions. Unfortunately they were also three-time losing World Series participants. As you would probably guess, the three-time defending champion hadn’t made many changes on its roster as the 1910 season opened. Manager Hughie Jennings had a good team and little reason to make major changes.

The infield consisted of Tom Jones at first and Jim Delahanty at second. Both came to Detroit late in the 1909 season and helped the Tigers to a 3.5 game margin over Philadelphia. Donie Bush remained at shortstop and George Moriarty was the third baseman. Bush led off and led the AL in walks in 1909. Frankly he wasn’t much of a shortstop, but was considered adequate, especially when his batting was taken into consideration.

The catchers platooned. That was a rarity in 1910. Oscar Stanage hit left-handed and Boss Schmidt, a switch hitter, swung mostly from the right. Neither were considered exceptional catchers or superior hitters, but got the job done.

You should start seeing a pattern emerge here. The team is adequate, not special. In defending a pennant adequate can lead to loss.

The heart of the team was the outfield. Longtime left fielder Matty McIntyre saw his production slip in 1909 and became, in 1910, the fourth outfielder. Davy Jones, former backup outfielder, took over the job in left. The key to the outfield lay in the other two positions manned by Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford. Cobb was coming off a triple crown year. He also led the AL in runs, stolen bases, and slugging. He was fearless and fearsome on the bases, generally disliked as  person, but widely admired for his baseball abilities. Crawford was in many way the anti-Cobb. He was quiet, will liked, a team player. He was also very, very good. In 1909 he led the AL in doubles.  With the two of them hitting three and four in the lineup, Detroit was formidable.

The bench consisted of McIntyre, the platooned catcher of the day, Charley O’Leary, Hack Simmons, and Chick Lathers. All were backup infielders with Lathers doing more pinch-hitting than either of the others.

The pitching staff saw one major change during the offseason. Sailor Stroud was a rookie. The rest of the staff consisted of George Mullin (who won 29 games in 1909), Bill Donovan, Ed Willett, Ed Summers, and Ed Killian (what is it with all the Ed’s?). All had pitched reasonably well in 1909 with Willett posting 22 wins.

But the Tigers had  problems. They were aging and the pitching staff was in many ways a reflection of their hitting. None of the pitchers had particularly good hits to innings pitched ratios or walks to strikeout ratios. In fact none of them were significant strikeout pitchers. Millen led the team with 124, good for 11th in the AL. The hitters, beyond Cobb and Crawford, weren’t anything special. All of them would hit over .250 for the season, but there was little pop. Beyond Cobb and Crawford none of them had more than six triples (which is a bigger deal in 1910 than in 2010). With the growing abilities of other teams, especially Philadelphia, the Tigers went into 1910 defending champs, but vulnerable.

Next: the Athletics

The Mighty Orioles

March 24, 2010

John McGraw

There is no question that the most famous team of the 1890s is the Baltimore Orioles (not to be confused with the modern Orioles). Their fame in some ways borders on infamy. They were tough, they were colorful, they were winners. They were the brawlers who put up great numbers and had unforgetable players.

There had been a Major League team in Baltimore as far back as 1872. None of them had done particularly well. There had been a second place finish a time or two, but no pennants. When the National League was formed in 1876 it bypassed Baltimore. The same was true of the American Association when it started in 1882. In 1883, the Association added the Orioles to their league. They finished last. In 1884 they rose to fourth and finished last, last, third, fifth, fifth, sixth, and fourth in the remaining years of the Association (1885-91). In other words, they weren’t very good very often. In 1892 the National League decided the American Association was dragging down the Major Leagues and convinced four teams, including Baltimore, to change leagues. It killed the Association and set up a twelve team league. For Baltimore nothing changed. They finished last. By 1893 they were up to eighth, then things did change.

The 1894 Orioles won the National League pennant by three games, marking a 29 game improvement (60 wins vs. 89). What happened? Essentially they changed their roster. Hall of Fame manager Ned Hanlon moved to replace or reassign most of his losing team. The infield of 1893 consisted of (from first to third) Harry Taylor, Heinie Reitz, John McGraw, and Billy Shindle.  In 1894 Dan Brouthers was now at first, McGraw had moved to third, and Hughie Jennings had taken his place at short. Only Reitz remained at the same spot in the field where he led all second basemen in fielding. The 1893 outfield was (from left around to right) Jim Long, Joe Kelley, and George Treadway. In ’94 Kelley (who moved from center to left), Steve Brodie, and Willie Keeler became the standard outfield.. Wilbert Robinson remained the catcher. In 1893 three pitchers won ten or more games: Sadie MacMahon, Tony Mullane, and Bill Hawke.  All three were still there in ’94 although Millane won only nine games. Kid Gleason and Bert Inks joined the staff as ten game winners. In other words, it’s basically a new team, particularly among the hitters.

For the three year span from 1894 through 1896, the former woebegone Orioles won three straight pennants, capping the ’96 race by 9.5 games. They slipped to second in 1897, losing to Boston by two games, then coming in second again in 1898, this time by six games.  In 1899 they dropped to fourth and were disbanded when the National League contracted in 1900.

The Orioles were noted for a rough style of play, some called it downright dirty. They would trip players rounding the bases, throw at batters, go into the stands to slug it out with fans. If you were from Baltimore you loved them. The rest of baseball hated them. But in all of that they played good team ball. In 1896, 1897, and 1898 they lead, as a team, the NL in several major offensive categories (and in ’96 it was almost all of them).  Except for Reitz in 1894 no Oriole led the league in any offensive category (Reitz led in triples in ’94) until 1897 and 1898 when Keeler led in hits runs and batting in ’97 and again in hits in ’98. Additionally McGraw led the NL in runs in 1898, and new outfielder Jake Stenzel picked up a doubles title in 1897. What they did was play as a team. The invented the “Baltimore chop” (hitting down on the ball to create an infield single). They get credit for the hit and run, although that’s disputed.

The defining player was John J. McGraw, the third baseman. He was tough, pugnacious, humorless, and a great ballplayer. As mentioned above he only led the league in a single category one time (runs), but he, more than manager Hanlon, set the tone for the team.  Unofficially, he led the team, and the league, in umpire baiting, ejections, fights, and creative use of the English language. All the while he was learning how to manage and soon after the turn of the century he would take over the New York Giants and become the second winningest manager ever (including three World Series victories).

During the Orioles run the Temple Cup series was played for a few years. This was a series of games played at the end of the season between the first and second place finishers in the National League. It was never very popular nor very successful and the pennant winner tended to not take the series seriously. Frankly they’d just won the pennant and had nothing to prove, so the games were viewed as exhibitions by the winners. Consequently, the second place team won most of the Temple Cup series’. The Orioles won the thing in 1896 and 1897.

Although Hanlon, McGraw, Jennings, Keeler, Brouthers, Kelley, and Robinson are in the Hall of Fame, it’s really tough to root for the Orioles. There’s just too much thuggery going on. I have to admit, though, I like their intensity and think I’d have enjoyed seeing them play at least a handful of times.

The Worst Baseball Team Ever

January 28, 2010

OK, the title is a bit strong. You shoulda seen some of the Little League teams I was on. But for the Major Leagues this is really easy. Welcome to 18 May 1912.

Ty Cobb, being Ty Cobb, was in trouble in May 1912. He’d gone into the stands and beaten up a fan. This was the kind of behavior Ban Johnson, president of the American League couldn’t stand. He was trying to build a sport that could appeal to the “better angels of our nature” (with apologies to Abe Lincoln) and Cobb was something of a demon. So Cobb had to go. Johnson tossed him out indefinitely. In a move that surprised everyone, the Tigers players exploded. Basically none of them like Cobb, but he was one of the boys, he was their best player, and well, heck, you just can’t do that to one of us. So the Tigers struck. They refused to play until Cobb was reinstated. No one, frankly, believed them so the scheduled game for 18 May was on against the Philadelphia Athletics, reigning world’s champs.

The A’s showed up, the Tigers showed up, then the Tigers marched off the field and refused to play. Rather than forfeit, Detroit manager Hughie Jennings decided to play with what has to be the worst team ever. Anticipating the team might really refuse to play, Jennings had gotten together a group of “players” to take the field if his team refused to play.  His team refused to play. So on came the replacements. The new guys were a mix of old coaches, young college and high school guys, and a couple of failed major league wanna be types.

The two coaches were Joe Sugden, aged 41, at first base and Deacon McGuire, aged 48, as the catcher. I don’t want to say McGuire was old, but his rookie year was 1884 at Toledo where he backed up Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first black player in a Major League. The guy caught Tony Mullane, for God’s sake.

The new guys were Jim McGarr, age 24, at second; Pat Meaney, age 20, at short; Jack Smith, age 19, at third; Hap Ward, age 20, in right;, Dan McGarvey, age 25, in left;  the youngest of the lot 18 year old Bill Leinhauser replacing Cobb was in center; and 23 year old Allan Travers took the mound.

There were couple of failed players on the team. The star of the team turned out to be 30 year old Ed Irvin would play both third and spell McGuire behind the plate (Did you really think a 48 year old could last as a catcher?). Billy Maharg got a turn at third, he was 29.

How’d they do? They got killed. Final score was 24-2. Travers pitched the entire game giving up 26 hits and ending with a 15.76 ERA. They got two hits, both triples by Irvin who ended his short career with a .667 batting average, a 2.000 slugging percentage, and a 2667 OPS. McGuire and Sugden scored the two runs.

The next day A’s owner/manager Connie Mack agreed to postpone the game. Ban Johnson met with the players, threatened them with banishment (sorry, couldn’t pass up the ban/banishment joke). Cobb called on his teammates to rejoin the game, and the farce ended with the one game. The Tigers went on to finish 6th (in an 8 team field). The game didn’t cost them much, they finished 6 games out of 5th.

Most of the replacement “players” went back to obscurity. Two of them did manage a certain amount of fame, or infamy depending on your definition. Maharg ended up one of the major players in the Black Sox scandal in 1919 and got himself banned from baseball (like he was ever going to play again). Travers did much better. He was a college man, finished his studies, and became a Jesuit priest. It’s tough to say which was his higher calling, priest or pitcher.