Posts Tagged ‘Jack Lapp’

Mack’s Catchers

March 6, 2014
Jack Lapp

Jack Lapp

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the final season of Connie Mack’s first great dynasty. The Philadelphia Athletics of 1910-1914 won four pennants (all but 1912) and three World Series’ (1910, 1911, and 1913). Over the life of this blog, I’ve spent a lot of time with this team. I’ve looked at the pitchers. I’ve looked at the outfielders. I’ve gone over the so-called “$100,000 infield”. I’ve even looked at a couple of bench players. However, I’ve never spent much time checking out the catchers. Here’s an attempt to rectify that.

For most of the period, Mack used two catchers more or less interchangeably. By that I mean no catcher played a lot of games in the field but there was no obvious platoon system. Although one hit from the left side (Jack Lapp) and the other from the right (Ira Thomas), Thomas got way too many at bats for there to be a platoon system going on.  Being a former catcher himself, Mack seems to have understood how tough the job was, how wearing it was on the body, so he gave his catchers a lot of rest. At least I think that’s what’s going on. I can find no absolute confirmation of that, but I can find no other obvious reason for how he uses his catchers. That being the case, he got pretty good work out of a pair of really obscure players.

For most of the period, the A’s relied on both Jack Lapp and Ira Thomas for catching duties. There were a number of other men who squatted behind the plate for the A’s, men like Paddy Livingston, and late in the period Wally Schang (who more or less replaced Thomas), but Lapp and Thomas did the bulk of the work for the 1910-1914 dynasty.

Ira Thomas (note the chest protector)

Ira Thomas (note the chest protector)

Both men were decent catchers, generally finishing in the upper half of the fielding stats for the American League (an eight team league in their era). Both were generally considered good handlers of pitchers, but I can find no evidence that either was specifically a “personal catcher” to any of the pitchers (the way McCarver was for Carlton, for example). As hitters, neither was anything to write home to mom about. Neither hit much. Lapp ended up at .263 with five homers and 166 RBIs (but an OPS+ of 104) and Thomas .242 with three home runs and 155 RBIs (and an OPS+ of 82). Most of Lapp’s OPS+ came in three seasons, only one of which (1915) he played 100 games.

Lapp played in all four World Series’ getting into five total games. He had four hits (all singles), scored a run and drove in another, hitting .235. Thomas played in only the first two, hitting .214 with four hits, three runs, and three RBIs. As mention above, Wally Schang replaced him as the second primary catcher in the final two Series’.

After leaving the Majors, Lapp in 1917 and Thomas in 1916, neither man ever managed in the Majors. Thomas coached at Williams College, then joined the A’s as a coach. Later he scouted for Mack. Thomas died in 1958 and Lapp went down with pneumonia in 1920.

Both men are pretty nameless today. They were never stars nor even major players. They did contribute to the A’s winning three World Series’ in four tries and establishing the first successful American League dynasty.

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.

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