Posts Tagged ‘Jack Knight’

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.

Leading Boston to Victory

May 8, 2010

Jimmy Collins in Boston Americans uniform

Way back in baseball’s Stone Age, the American League team in Boston (they didn’t become the Red Sox until later in the period), won the first World Series. They had a great pitcher in Cy Young. They also had a dominant third baseman named Jimmy Collins. Collins doubled as the manager and led his team to victory.

Collins began his career with the National League’s Boston team, the Beaneaters, in 1895. They loaned him to Louisville for the bulk of the season (long story). By 1896 he was back in Boston where he stayed for the remainder of the 19th Century.

With the dawn of the new century Ban Johnson moved his Western League east and formed the American League. Collins moved right along with him into the new league becoming the manager of the upstart AL franchise in Boston. Both Collins and the team did well. In 1901 he managed them to second place, in 1902 they were third. In 1903 they won the pennant. Pittsburgh won the National League pennant and owner Barney Dreyfuss challenged Boston to a nine game “World’s Series” to determine who had the better team. Boston won in eight games, although Collins didn’t have a particularly good series. In 1904 they won the AL pennant again, agreed to another World Series, and ran smack up against John McGraw and the New York Giants who simply refused to play the upstart team from an upstart league.

In 1905 Boston fell back to fourth and was last in 1906. Collins hurt his knee and played only 37 games in ’06. It was his last year as manager. After 41 games in Boston in 1907 he went to Philadelphia in a trade for fellow third baseman Jack Knight. Collins went on to have one last good year, then in 1908 he hit only .217 in 115 games. The next season Frank (Home Run) Baker replaced him at third. Collins died in 1943 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1945.

I look over his numbers and sometimes I wonder why Collins is so well regarded. As I looked at him more, I began to realize the dearth of talent at third base and realized he’s a good candidate for best third sacker of the era. Now that sounds like a backhanded compliment, “Well, there just wasn’t anybody better outta all these bums, so why not him?” And in some ways it is. Actually, third base has produced fewer great players than any other position. Most of the good hitters didn’t play defense particularly well. Most of the good glove men didn’t hit all that well.

Collins is one of the few third basemen who did both well. As a defensive player he was considered  the premier glove man of his day. In an era where the bunt was a major weapon, he was famous for being hard to bunt against. His range was excellent, holding four of the best seasonal averages ever. In the opening years of the American League he is clearly its best defensive third baseman.

He hit pretty well also. Five seasons he hit over .300. In 1898 he won a home run title with 15, his only year in double figure home runs. He had 175 hits five times, tallied 100 runs four years, and had 100 RBIs twice. All are good numbers for the era. In the twelve years he played 100 games, he averaged 156 hits, 83 runs, 28 doubles, and 77 RBIs. Again, not bad for the Deadball Era(Ya know, when I do spell check they suggest deadball should be meatball. I wonder why.). His 15 home runs in 1898 are 23% of his total and I’ve no clue why the sudden power surge. His next highest total was a rookie year seven. In his last three seasons he hit exactly one.

Jimmy Collins is one of those players whose numbers don’t jump off the page at you, but who consistently impresses if you pay attention to when he took the field. He played a pivotal role for two very good teams at the turn of the 20th Century, leading one of them to the first ever World Series title. All in all he is probably the American League’s finest third baseman in its formative years. He’s one of the reasons the league gained instant credibility and became a true rival to the National League.

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