Posts Tagged ‘Jack Coombs’

Opening Day 1908

April 12, 2018

Jack Coombs

Continuing with the ongoing look at 1908, 14 April was opening day. That’s a Saturday this year, and I don’t post normally on a Saturday. So here’s an early look at the first day of the 1908 season.

There were seven total games opening the 1908 season, three in the National League, four in the American League. The defending champion Cubs opened on the road against Cincinnati. Chicago won 6-5. There are a couple of interesting points about the game. First Orval Overall started the opener, not Mordecai Brown (Brown relieved). Second, the Reds got all five runs in the first inning (only one was earned) then were shutout for the remainder of the game. Third, Hans Lobert, a pretty fair third baseman, started the game in left field. For the season he played 21 games in left and 99 at third. Finally, the hitting star was Johnny Evers. He went three for three with a double, three runs scored, an RBI, and a walk.

The Giants beat the Phillies 3-1 with Christy Mathewson throwing a four hit gem. He struck out seven, walked one, and saw a shutout lost in the ninth inning. In the other NL game, the Doves (Boston) knocked off the Superbas (Brooklyn) 9-3. Brooklyn first baseman Tim Jordan hit the NL’s first home run in the losing effort.

In the American League, Cy Young picked up a win leading the Red Sox to a 3-1 victory over the Senators. The one Washington run was a home run by Jim Delahanty. The Browns (St. Louis) knocked off the Naps (Cleveland) 2-1 with Hall of Famer Addie Joss taking the loss. Fellow Hall of Famer Nap LaJoie, for whom the team was named, went one for four with a double. The New York Highlanders (now Yankees) beat Connie Mack’s Athletics 1-0 in 12 innings. All 12 innings took two hours and 25 minutes to play. In another oddity, later star pitcher Jack Coombs started the game in right field for Philadelphia. He went two for five. The two hits led the team. For the season he played 47 games in the outfield and pitched 26.

The defending AL champion Detroit Tigers were in a slugfest with the Chicago White Sox. The final was 15-8 for the ChiSox with Doc White picking up the win. Every Chicago starter, including White, scored at least one run. For Detroit, both Hall of Famers Sam Crawford and Ty Cobb did well. Crawford was two for five with a double and two runs scored, while Cobb went two runs scored, a double, and a home run.

That was opening day 1908.

 

 

Gettysburg Eddie

April 10, 2013
Eddie Plank

Eddie Plank

Quick bit of trivia. Which left-handed pitcher has the most wins in the American League? Want some help? The number is 305. OK if you’re clever (and because you read this blog, most of you are) you looked at the title and the picture and guessed Eddie Plank. You win.

Plank was born to a farming family in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (scene of the famous battle) in 1875. His first taste of organized baseball came in 1893, when he was 17. It was a local team and brought him to the attention of Gettysburg Academy, a prep school for the local university, Gettysburg College. Apparently students enrolled at the Academy could participate in varsity athletics for the College, so Plank pitched for Gettysburg College but was never a student (Figure that one out, NCAA. I wonder if you can sanction a team after 100 years?). He came to the attention of Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics and in 1901 he joined the A’s without ever playing for a minor league team.

It was the first year for the American League and the Athletics. Plank was good and he would remain with Philly for most of his career. In his initial campaign he was 17-13 with an ERA over 3.– (which was big in the Deadball Era). The next four years he won 20 plus games each season. His ERA dropped, his strikeout total soared, peaking at   210 in 1905. The A’s won the AL pennant in both 1902 and 1905. In both cases Plank was the two pitcher behind Rube Waddell. In 1905, the A’s participated in the second World Series. With Waddell hurt, Plank got two games. He struck out eleven, walked four, gave up three earned runs, had an ERA of 1.59. Despite all that, he took the loss in both games as the Giants pitching staff gave up no earned runs for the entire series.

He continued to pitch well during the rest of the first decade of the 20th Century, having his first (of two) losing seasons in 1908 (14-16). By 1910 he was becoming the third member of the rotation behind Chief Bender and Jack Coombs. The A’s made the World Series in four of the next five seasons, winning three (1910, ’11, and ’13). Plank pitched well all three seasons, winning 20 games in 1911 (and again in 1912, the one year the Athletics failed to win the pennant).

His World Series record wasn’t as good as his regular season totals. In 1910 he didn’t pitch in the Series. Bender and Coombs pitched every game as the A’s beat the Cubs. In 1911 he was 1-1 with an ERA of 1.86. His game two win over Rube Marquard was a five hit masterpiece, but he was overshadowed by Frank Baker’s two-run home run that proved the difference. He wa 1-1 again in 1912 while putting up an 0,95 ERA. His victory was in game five when he two hit the Giants for a 3-1 win that clinched the Series for the A’s. In 1914, he pitched game two, lost it 1-0 on a double, stolen base, and a single in the top of the ninth. The Braves swept the A’s out of the Series in four games. For his career Plank was 2-5 with a 1.32 ERA and 32 strikeouts.

In 1914 the Federal League was formed. It offered players better salaries and something like quality play (the play could be pretty good or wretched depending on the team). Plank was interested and in 1915 Mack waived him (and both Bender and Coombs). Plank ended up with the St. Louis Terriers as their ace. He went 21-11, led the league in WHIP and ERA+, and found himself on one final pennant winner. The Feds folded after the 1915 season and Plank, now 40, found himself looking for work. The St. Louis Browns picked him up for the 1916 season (my wife’s grandfather once told me he saw Plank pitch with the Browns). He was 5-6 with a 1.79 ERA. It was only his second losing season. He was through. He retired to his farm in Gettysburg, where he farmed and led tours of the battlefield. In 1926 he suffered a stroke and died a couple of days later. In 1946 he was elected to the Hall of Fame.

For all his ability, Plank had one severe problem when he pitched. He was slow. Really slow. Really, really slow. He was infamous for taking a lot of time between pitches. As mentioned above, my wife’s grandfather told me he saw Plank pitch. He told me “you could drink a whole bottle of pop between pitches.” It seems to be part of the reason that Mack went with other pitchers in critical situations. A slow pitcher can cause the defense to become lax and Mack, as a former catcher, had to be aware of that. I looked at a handful of Plank’s games that had times listed (all of them don’t) and compared him with both Bender and Coombs. His games did seem to take longer, although not a lot, but were nothing like the length of games today.

Over his career, Plank was 326-194 for a .627 winning percentage. His ERA was 2.35 with an ERA+ of 122. He pitched 4495.2 innings, gave up 3958 hits, walked 1072, and struck out 2246 for a WHIP of 1.119. When he retired he had more wins than any other left-hander. In the 96 years since, he’s been passed by only two other lefty’s: Warren Spahn and Steve Carlton. Not bad considering all the left-handed pitchers that have played since 1917. As mentioned in the first paragraph, he still holds the record for most wins by a lefty in the American League.

When I first began this somewhat extended look at the 1910-14 Athletics, I was a little surprised I hadn’t dealt with Plank. After all, I’d done all four of the infield plus Bender and Coombs (and utility man Danny Murphy). In some ways that’s kind of fitting. Plank was never really a big star and only infrequently the team ace. Seems to be that way here also.

Plank's final resting place in Gettysburg, PA

Plank’s final resting place in Gettysburg, PA

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.

Opening Day, 1913: American League

April 3, 2013
Walter Johnson (later than 1913)

Walter Johnson (later than 1913)

In 1913, the American League opened its season one day later than the National League. Opening Day was 10 April. Among other games it saw Philadelphia win its first game of the season.

Although the Red Sox were defending World’s Champions, Connie Mack’s Athletics were the loaded team. The 1913 A’s boasted the “$100,000 Infield” of Stuffy McInnis at first, Jack Barry at short, and Hall of Famers Eddie Collins and Frank Baker at second and third. Of outfielders Rube Oldring, Amos Strunk, Eddie Murphy (obviously not the modern comedian), and Jimmy Walsh, only Oldring was older than 25 (he was 29) and only Walsh hit below .280. Jack Lapp and rookie Wally Schang shared catching duties with Schang being much the better hitter. Aging Danny Murphy was solid of the bench. It was a strong team that looked good for many years. They had won the 1910 and 1911 World Series and finished third in 1912. The fall back was primarily because of the pitching. Ace Eddie Plank was 37 and former ace Jack Coombs was ill from typhoid. There was nothing wrong with Chief Bender, however, and he managed 21 wins with a 2.21 ERA and 13 saves. The A’s would win the pennant by 6.5 over Washington and beat up on the Giants in the World Series, winning four games to one.

The Senators would finish second primarily because they had Walter Johnson and no one else did. Johnson had a season for the ages. He went 36-6, had an ERA of 1.14, struck out 243 men, and ended with an ERA+ of 259. It got him the pitching triple crown and the AL’s Chalmers Award (an early form of the MVP). The Chalmers lasted four years (eight total awards) and Johnson is the only pitcher to win one. Washington’s top hitter was probably Chick Gandil, who became infamous in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.

Defending champ Boston would finish in fourth (Cleveland was third) 15.5 games back. Tris Speaker hit in the .360s but the pitching collapsed. Notably, Smoky Joe Wood went from 34 wins to 11.

Ty Cobb won another batting title, hitting .390, while Baker won both the home run and RBI titles. Collins led the AL in runs, while Cleveland’s Joe Jackson had the most hits.

1913 saw a number of rookies who would make their mark. On 28 June Wally Pipp played his first game for the Tigers. He would anchor first base for the initial Yankees pennant winners before losing his position to Lou Gehrig. Hall of Fame outfielder Edd Roush made his debut on 20 August with Chicago. On 4 August Cleveland brought up Billy Southworth. He was an okay players, but made the Hall of Fame as a manager. Finally on 17 September Detroit brought Lefty Williams to the Major Leagues. He would eventually lose three games while helping the 1919 White Sox throw the World Series.

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.

1910: The Slugging Hurler

September 17, 2010

Ed Summers

On this date in 1910, the Detroit Tigers pitcher Ed Summers hit two home runs in the same game. It was unusual because in his entire career, Summers hit exactly two home runs, these two. The Tigers defeated the Philadelphia Athletics that day 10-3, Summers picking up the win. It didn’t help a lot, the A’s still won the pennant, but for one day it slowed them down. 

Oran Edgar Summers was born in 1884 in Indiana. He was another college man, attending Wabash College before joining the Tigers in 1908. He went 24-12 with an ERA of 1.64 in 40 games (32 starts). He pitched 301 innings (a career high), gave up 271 hits, walked 55 and struck out 103. On 25 September 1908, he pitched both ends of a double-header recording two wins. The Tigers made the World Series, Summers relieving in game one and starting game four. He took the loss in both games, giving up 18 hits in 14.2 innings. Wikipedia says he and Justin Verlander are the only two Tigers rookies to start a World Series game. 

In 1909 he was 19-9 in 282 innings, posting a career high in strikeouts with 107. The Tigers got back to the World series, and again Summers got into two games (both starts) and lost both. He gave up 13 hits in 7.1 innings and had a huge 8.60 ERA. 

By 1910 he was showing signs of arm trouble (he ended up with rheumatism) and began slowing down. He was 13-12 in 1910 (including his big day 100 years ago today) and 11-11 in 1911. He  was finished in 1912 managing to go 1-1 in three games. For his career he ended up 68-45 with 999 innings pitched over 138 games. He struck out 362 and walked 221 with nine shutouts. In World series play he was 0-4.  He died at age in 1953 at age 68. 

Summers is one of those Stone Age players you never hear about. He’s strictly background noise for the big names. On his own team that means Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford. He’s another one of those pitchers who arrive with a great season, then flame out early. A couple of weeks ago I did a post of Jack Coombs, a better pitcher, but one whose career follows the same trajectory of success followed by rapid collapse (Coombs, did however, have a long period of toiling before he made it big in the American League) Baseball history is littered with players like Summers and Coombs. For all that, for one day, Summers at least was a fearsome slugger.

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.

The Banker was a Pitcher

September 6, 2010

Orval Overall

At some point every ballplayer has to retire. Some do it gracefully, some are led out kicking and screaming. Some don’t know what to do when they retire, others have a plan. One of the latter was Deadball Era pitcher Orval Overall.

Overall was born on Groundhog Day 1881 in California. He attended the University of California, majoring in agriculture, was elected class president, and played both baseball and football. In 1904 he joined Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League and was picked up by Cincinnati in 1905. He pitched there in both 1905 and 1906, going 22-28. In June 1906, he was traded to Chicago, where he joined a Cubs team on the way to a National League pennant. In both ’06 and ’07 Overall was a mainstay of the Cubs staff, winning 35 games and leading the NL in shutouts in ’07. He developed arm trouble in 1908, then came back in 1909 to win 20 games and led the league in strikeouts and shutouts. More arm trouble in 1910 was followed by a contract dispute and Overall retired after the season.

What did he retire to do? He ran a gold mine (jointly owned with teammate Three Finger Brown). He pitched a little minor league ball, then in 1913 went back to Chicago for one final season. He wasn’t very good and retired permanently at the end of the season. For his career he was 108-71 in 218 games (182 starts). He struck out 935 and walked 551 in 1535 innings and finished with a 2.23 ERA. In World Series play he finished 3-1 with 35 strikeouts, 15 walks, and two rings.

After retirement, Overall returned to California, worked in a brewery, then took over the family citrus farm. He sold it in the 1920s for a boatload of money, and became an appraiser and director of the local bank in Visalia, California. Moving  to Fresno, Overall became vice president of the Security-First National Bank of Los Angeles, eventually rising to branch manager in Fresno. He died in 1947 a very wealthy man.

There continues to be a perception that Deadball Era ball players were a bunch of uneducated, illiterate louts. Well, there’s great truth in that perception. But there was another group of ball players who were intelligent, well-educated, and knew how to manage their affairs. In the 1910 World Series Overall, Jack Barry, Eddie Collins, Chief Bender, Eddie Plank, and Jack Coombs were all college men, most of which went on to good careers after their playing days were over. Let us not forget them when we look at the louts who also inhabited the game.

Colby Jack

September 5, 2010

Jack Coombs in 1910

Back in 1988, Orel Hershiser set the record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched. Most people noted that he just surpassed Don Drysdale. A handful of experts pointed out that Drysdale had taken the record away from Walter Johnson. Almost no one knew that Johnson had replaced Jack Coombs as the record holder. One hundred years ago today, Colby Jack Coombs began a run that eventually led to 53 consecutive scoreless innings.

Coombs was born in Iowa and graduated from Colby College in Maine, hence his “Colby Jack” nickname. Connie Mack brought him to the majors immediately after graduation. He went 10-10 in 1906, participating in the longest game played to that point. In 1907 and 1908 he had equally undistinguished records, then went 12-11 in 1909. The breakthrough came in 1910. For the season he went 31-9 with an ERA of 1.30, striking out 224 men. He led the American League in wins, games, and shutouts. His ERA was second in the AL. In the World Series his Philadelphia Athletics defeated the Chicago Cubs four games to one. Coombs was the winning pitcher in three of the games, including the last one.

The 1911 season was almost as spectacular. Coombs was 28-12, but with an ERA of 3.53, He led he league in wins, games, and in hits given up. The A’s went back to the World Series where Coombs won a game and took a no decision. In 1912 he was 21-10.

Tragedy struck in 1913. Coombs caught typhoid, almost died, and saw his baseball career derailed. In 1913 and 1914 combined he pitched a total of 13 innings, absorbing one loss. In 1915, Mack sent him to Brooklyn in the National League. Coombs was 32 and coming off two lost seasons. He bounced back to go 15-10 for the Robins (Dodgers comes later), then went 13-8 for the pennant winning team of 1916. The Robins lost the World Series in five games. Coombs, of course, won the only Brooklyn victory, a 4-3 win over Boston. 

It was essentially the end. He had a losing record in 1917 and 1918, went to the Phillies as manager in 1919. The Phils were awful and Coombs wasn’t much of a manager. So 62 games into the season he was fired. His record was 18-44. He went back to the AL in 1920, getting into two games for the woeful Tigers, then retired.

Coombs overall record was 158-110 with an ERA of 2.78. He had 35 shutouts, walked 841 men, and struck out 1052 in 354 games pitched (268 starts). From 1910 through 1912 he went 80-31, had 15 shutouts, and struck out 529 men, while walking 328. In World Series play (1910, 1911, 1916) he was at his best. He went 5-0 with 34 strikeouts in 53.1 innings, giving up 41 hits.

It took a while, but by 1929 Coombs found another good job in baseball. He took over as head coach at Duke University, where he remained through 1952. Unlike A’s teammate Jack Barry his Duke teams never won a College World Series, but he was successful, particularly in sending players to the majors. In 1945 he wrote a manual “Baseball: Individual Play and Team Strategy”. I’ve read it and it’s pretty good. Combs died in Texas in 1957. The field at Duke is named in his honor.

Jack Coombs had claim to be one of the three or four finest pitchers in all of the Major Leagues for a short period (1910-12), then he got sick. It took two full years to recover and he never made it back to his previous form. He did well for a short while with Brooklyn, but his last several years were mere shadow to his great years. There’ve been a lot of pitchers who have similar patterns of a few good years than something goes drastically wrong. Sometimes its an injury, sometimes arm trouble, sometimes illness, sometimes just a screw loose somewhere in the head. Coombs is, for a short period, a truly great pitcher and a good example of this pattern.

By way of trivia, in the great 1950s western “High Noon” there are four villains. The one played by Lee Van Cleef is named Jack Colby. I wonder if the author of the screenplay was an old A’s fan.