Posts Tagged ‘Jack Coombs’

The Way to Win: Deadball

August 6, 2010

Connie Mack

In the previous post I talked about how the Yankees dynasty teams were all built pretty much the same way with a solid manager, star players, good players, role players, and one-year wonders. I found this a good way to look at a “big picture”, as opposed to a stat-filled view of winners. It’s not just the Yankees who’ve done it that way. Consider the Deadball Era’s Philadelphia Athletics if you will. Although they win differently than the bashing Murder’s Row Yankees of the 1920s, the A’s are put together the same way.

Connie Mack was both manager and owner (which makes for really great job security for the manager). He’d been a 19th Century catcher who’d never been a great player, but he understood the importance of team unity, of pitching, of defense, and timely hitting. He put together a team that between 1910 and 1914 won the World Series three times, lost it once,  and finished third in 1912.

The hitting stars were second baseman Eddie Collins and third baseman Frank Baker. Both made the Hall of Fame and both hit extremely well. Collins provided speed to go with Baker’s power (power in Deadball Era terms). Additionally, Eddie Plank was a star pitcher, eventually racking up over 300 wins (he’s still third among lefties).

As mentioned earlier, you don’t win with just stars. You need a lot of good players around the stars. Mack had them. Stuffy McInnis, started the era as a role players, but quickly became a very good player at first base. On the mound Chief Bender overcame the racial prejudice of his era (he was an American Indian) and rose to Hall of Fame status as a solid pitcher and Mack’s favorite. Two other very good players came through the A’s dynasty for part of the period. Danny Murphy, a converted second baseman, was an outfielder in 1910-11 and Wally Schang took over the catching job late. Then there was Jack Coombs. Coombs had great years in 1910, 11, and 12, then got sick and his career faded. For those three years though, he may have been the best pitcher on the A’s , if not in all of baseball.

The team had a lot of role players who were able to step into holes or step up in games to provide the kind of solid play a team needs to win. Jack Barry was the shortstop for the entire period. He was a decent, without being truly great, shortstop who hit some. The outfield, other than Danny Murphy, consisted of Bris Lord, Rube Oldring, Amos Strunk,  Topsy Hartsell,  and Eddie Murphy. Not all of them started the entire time, but each contributed for at least a year or two. None were household names during the era (nor are they now). On the other hand, Harry Davis was something of a household name in the era. He’d led the AL in both doubles and home runs earlier in his career, but by 1910 was reduced to pretty much a role player (and in 1911 lost his first base job to McInnis).  Both Bob Shawkey and Herb Pennock came up late in run and both went on to stellar careers (Pennock making the Hall of Fame), but at this point in their lives they were role players.

The one-year wonders? Well, there was Harry Krause who went 11-8 on the mound in 1911 and 25-18 for the rest of his career and fellow pitcher Rube Bressler who went 10-3 in 1914 and 16-28 for the rest of his career . Mack seemed able to find guys like this frequently. Maybe his being an ex-catcher helped.

The Deadball A’s were put together very much like te Murder’s Row Yankees. They won differently by emphasizing pitching, timely hitting, speed, and power (as defined by Deadball Era stats) as opposed to raw power and effective pitching. Both worked well. As mentioned earlier the two teams look very different in the method they used to accomplish their job, but both are put together the same way. I want to look next week at two more squads to emphasize how many teams work like this over both different eras and different methods of winning.

1910: End of June

June 30, 2010

Hilltop Park, home of the Highlanders in 1910

By the end of June 1910, the season was beginning to take definite form in both leagues. There were few surprises, although the American League had a big one. Here’s a look at the way Major League Baseball stood at the end of June 1910.

The National League was running true to pre-season expectations. The Chicago Cubs were in first place with a record of 38-21. They were 1.5 games up on the New York Giants, with the defending champion Pittsburgh Pirates another4.5 games back. Cincinnati rounded out the first division 8.5 games back with a .500 record (30-30 with one tie on the books). The Phillies, Cardinals, and Brooklyn Superbas were bunched closed behind the Reds in position to step into the first division. The Doves of Boston were already mired deep in last place 18 games out of first with a record of 22-41 (with a tie). Honus Wagner was on track for another batting title, but Philadelphia outfielder Sherry Magee was having a monster year and already ahead in the RBI department.

The big surprise was in the American League. Philadelphia was a game ahead at the end of June, but second place belonged to the New York Highlanders (now Yankees). The Highlanders finished fifth in 1909 and were not favorites for a pennant in 1910. But manager George Stallings (of 1914 Miracle Braves fame) had them in contention. They led the AL in stolen bases and Russ Ford was striking out a lot of batters. Unfortunately for the Highlanders, manager Stallings was already having problems with first baseman Hal Chase, who seemed not to be trying very hard to win games on occasion. It was to be a career long problem for Chase’s managers.

It helped the Highlanders, that the Athletics had a terrible June. The A’s went 12-12 for the month (unfortunately the Highlanders only went 13-11 for the month), their worst month of the season. Chief Bender was doing alright on the mound, but ace Eddie Plank was off his game. Jack Coombs was doing OK, but nothing special (his time was to come later in the season).

Both the Tigers defending AL champs) and Red Sox were in range of first (3 and 6 games out), but had yet to make a charge. The second division teams, Cleveland, Chicago, Washington, and St. Louis, were falling back, although Senators pitcher Walter Johnson was having a decent first half.

So except for the Highlanders, the season was playing out about as expected. There were three months left (plus a handful of October games) to sort out the winners, but other than the AL’s New York team, there were no surprises. Of course, it was only half a season and a lot of things could change.

In July there will be a couple of major developments that will be dealt with on the appropriate date.

1910: Chief

May 12, 2010

Today marks the centennial of Chief Bender’s one and only no-hitter. He beat Cleveland 4-0 (Cleveland was involved in both 1910 no hitters with Addie Joss winning in April) with 1903 World Series hero Bill Dinneen taking the loss. Dinneen had thrown his own no-hitter in 1905. Of the three major pitchers who were the centerpieces of the 1910-1914 Athletics dynasty (Eddie Plank, Jack Coombs being the others), only Bender tossed a no-no.

Charles Albert Bender was born in Minnesota in 1884. He was a Ojibwa tribal member who attended both Carlisle Indian School (before Jim Thorpe arrived) and Dickinson College, both in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He seems to have been an OK student and was a gifted pitcher. In 1903 Connie Mack brought him to the Philadelphia A’s where he became the third pitcher and leading right-hander  behind southpaw aces Eddie Plank and Rube Waddell. He pitched in the 1905 World Series, taking both a win and a loss. The win was Philly’s only victory in the series. By 1910 he was well established as one of Philadelphia’s aces. He was also a Connie Mack favorite, who was generally chosen to pitch critical games. In 1910, he will start two World Series games, splitting them. In 1911, he will start three going 2-1. With Coombs disabled in 1913, Bender will be the ace and win two games in the series. In 1914, lost his only start in the Miracle Braves sweep.

With the advent of the Federal League in 1914,  Mack began dismantling his team. Bender jumped to the Baltimore Terrapins of the Federal League where he had a terrible year, going 4-16 giving up more hits than innings pitched. With the collapse of the Feds, Bender ended up back in Philadelphia, but this time with the National League Phillies. He went 15-9 with other good numbers too. He retired then, went into war work for World War I, then coached for the White Sox in the 1920s. He got into one game in 1925, giving up a run in one inning with a walk and a hit, then was through for good. He returned to The A’s and coached, scouted, and manged at the minor league level through 1950, when both he and Mack retired. In 1953 he was elected to the Hall of Fame and died the next year.

For his career, including the Federal League year, Bender was 210-128 (a .621 winning percentage) with 1711 strikeouts in 3017 innings,  712 walks, and an ERA of 2.46. In World Series play he pitched ten games going 6-4 with 64 hits,59 strikeouts, and 85.1 innings pitched. Certainly a good enough career.

In one way it’s an even better career. Because Bender was an American Indian he faced the standard racial prejudices of his day every time he took the mound. Phil Sheridan of “The only good indian is a dead indian” fame had only been dead for 15 years prior to Bender’s rookie campaign. He faced problems from the stands and from the opposing players. One symbol of it was his nickname, “Chief.” It was common in the period for any American Indian player to have that nickname and frequently it was meant derogatorily. Mack, sensitive to Bender’s problem and his initial feelings about the name, refered to him as “Albert”, his middle name. Bender seems to have at a point late in his career finally embraced the name (or at least quite despising it) and used it as a badge of honor against a hostile world. One of his favorite responses to heckling from the stands was to refer to the hecklers as “Foreigners.”

His teammates and most of the Philly fans liked him (Considering the way they treat their own players today, what happened to Philly fandom in the last 100 years???). He was considered a good teammate and friend, a player the other players liked to be around both on and off the job. Mack trusted him with scouting and developing minor league players after Bender’s retirement. It wasn’t easy being an American Indian in 1910, but among his friends, coaches, and teammates Bender was respected and liked.

By this point, he’s been almost forgotten. Unlike the black community’s embrace of Jackie Robinson, the American Indian Movement never picked up on him as someone to remember and that’s a real shame. They probably should have done so. He’s worth it as both ballplayer and man.

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

Long Day at the Office

February 21, 2010

On the 1st of September 1906, Boston saw one of the longest, if not best pitched games ever played. The Philadelphia Athletics, just off a losing trip to the World Series were in town to play the Americans (now the Red Sox). It was a Saturday afternoon.

The Americans sent second year pitcher Joe Harris to the mound. The A’s countered with rookie Jack Coombs, who was 5-7 going into the game. It was scoreless into the third inning when Coombs singled, stole second base, went to third on an infield out, then came home on an infield single. The Americans countered in the sixth when shortstop Freddy Parent tripled and came home on a single by center fielder Chick Stahl. Now with the preliminaries out of the way, the two pitchers settled down. They pitched scoreless ball through the seventh, the eighth, the ninth, the tenth. In fact they pitched scoreless ball through 23 innings. It wasn’t great pitching. Coombs gave up 15 hits and walked six. Harris gave up 12 hits and only walked two. But it was effective pitching. No body scored for 17 innings.

It came to an end in the 24th. Coombs led off the inning by striking out, then right fielder Topsy Hartsel singled and stole second base. Center fielder Briscoe Lord couldn’t advance him, but catcher Ossie Schreckengost, playing first that day, singled him home for the go-ahead run. Consecutive triples by left fielder Socks Seybold and second baseman Danny Murphy made the score 4-1. Then Coombs set down the Americans in order to post the win.

Coombs finished the season 10-11 and went on to a distinguished career with the A’s. In 1910 and 1911 he led the American League in wins (31 and 28) and posted 21 wins in 1912. In World Series play with the A’s he was 3-0 in 1910 and 1-0 in 1911 as the A’s won both series. He caught typhoid fever in 1913 and was out most of 1913 and 1914. The A’s sent him to Brooklyn in 1915 where he pitched well, winning the Robins’ (the were not yet the Dodgers) only game in the 1916 World Series. He hung on with Brooklyn through 1918, managed the 1919 Philadelphia Phillies to an 18-44 record and last place before being fired. In 1920 pitched five inning for Detroit before retiring. After leaving the Major Leagues he coached at Duke University from 1929-1952. They named the field for him. He died in 1957.

Harris’ career wasn’t nearly as successful. He ended the 1906 season 2-21, leading the league in losses. He stayed at Boston only through 1907 compiling a career 3-30 record  with a 3.35 ERA in 317 innings. He died in 1966.

For the game there are a couple of interesting box score lines. Seybold was 1 for 10, but the one was critical. Americans third baseman Red Morgan went 0-7. The game is fascinating, but inconsequential in the standings. The A’s finished fourth 12 games back and the Americans were dead last 45.5 games out of first.

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.

Best Possible Game 3

December 11, 2009

Almost exactly 100 years ago the American League produced its first great dynasty, the 1910-14 Philadelphia A’s. In five years they played in 4 World Series, winning 3. The 3rd game of the 1911 Series against the New York Giants was special.

The home team Giants sent 26 game winner and Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson to the mound against 28 game winner Jack Coombs.  Although the A’s pitcher lacked Hall of Fame credentials, the team was stacked with others: Eddie Plank, Chief Bender, Eddie Collins, and John Franklin Baker. When game 3 started they were already up 2 games to none in the Series.

Both pitchers did well, the Giants picking up one run in the third on two singles and a force play. Then Coombs shut down the Giants through the 8th inning. Mathewson was even better, posting a shutout through 8. In the top of the ninth he induced Collins to ground out. The next batter was Baker. The day before Baker had crushed a home run to win the game and Mathewson had been openly critical of the Giants pitcher (Rube Marquard) for giving Baker a good pitch to hit. After all Frank Baker led the AL in home runs in 1911. Baker promptly homered off Mathewson (Marquard’s reaction is not recorded) to tie the game. Within a week Frank Baker had become Home Run Baker and the nickname stuck.

Both pitchers got through the 10th without damage.In the top of the 11th  with one out Collins singled bringing up Baker who promptly singled also, going to 2nd on an error. Right Fielder Danny Murphy reached on an error scoring Collins, then 1st baseman Harry Davis drove home Baker.

In the bottom of the 11th, the Giants gave it a go. They picked up one run on a double, a ground out, and an error but lost the game on a caught stealing. Up 3 games to none, the A’s dropped games 4 and 5 before blowing the Giants out in game 6.

Honorable mention game 3:

1919-it’s tough to pick any game from 1919, but this is Dickey Kerr’s magnificent shutout which showed what the ChiSox could do when they tried.

1932-not really much of a game, but it’s one of the most famous World Series games ever. In it Babe Ruth hit his “called shot”. Not going to venture into the discussion of whether he did it or not, but will mention that the next batter, Lou Gehrig, also homered.

1935-a 6-5 eleven inning affair won by Detroit on an error.

1963-Don Drysdale’s 1-0 shutout of the Yankees on 3 hits to put the Dodgers up 3 games to none with Sandy Koufax due to pitch game 4.

1964-a 2-1 game won by a Mickey Mantle home run in the bottom of the ninth.

1991-Atlanta wins 5-4 in 12 innings on a Mark Lemke single to put the Braves back in the Series.