Posts Tagged ‘Jim Thorpe’

McGraw’s Best Job

June 6, 2017

John McGraw with the Giants

Think about John McGraw. Go ahead, take a minute and conjure up your mental images of John J.. McGraw. I’ll wait. Done? Good. Now I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that not one of those images revolved around winning the 1917 National League pennant. That’s because the Giants pennant winning team is one of the more obscure NL winners and almost no one associates it with the great Giants teams under McGraw. But it may be his finest managing effort.

McGraw teams were always built on speed, good defense, and great pitching. This team was really no different, but it was a team that had no truly great player to anchor any of those things around. Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity, Rube Marquard, the name pitchers who had dominated all those winning teams from 1904 through 1913 were all gone. You can say what you want about the new guys, but they weren’t nearly the quality of those starters. Here’s the list of every pitcher who started 10 or more games: Ferdie Schupp, Slim Sallee, Rube Benton, Pol Perritt, Jeff Tesreau, Al Demaree, Fred Anderson. Ever hear of any of them? If so, maybe you remember Sallee because he was part of the 1919 Reds that won the infamous Black Sox World Series. Tesreau might strike a bell because he was a holdover from the last Giants pennant winner in 1913. So were Demaree and Schupp (although Schupp only pitched 12 innings). None of them were stars and none were the kind of pitchers great teams hang their hat on. But as a group they pitched well in 1917. They led the NL in ERA, fewest runs allowed, fewest hits allowed, were second in walks, and third in shutouts.

How about the rest of the battery? The main catcher was Bill Rariden with Lew McCarty and George Gibson as his backups. It was Rariden’s career year (if you exclude a stint in the Federal League). He hit .271, 34 points above his career average, and had 2.3 WAR, his non-Federal League high. McCarthy hit .247 and the 36-year-old Gibson a buck-.71. None were bad catchers, but only Gibson came close to the league average in throwing out runners (he tied the average at 44%).

The outfield was, perhaps, a bit better known. Benny Kauff was a refugee from the Federal League, who’d been a star with the Feds. With the Giants he was good, but not great. He hit .308 to lead the team and his 30 stolen bases were second on the team. George Burns was the other corner outfielder. He was over .300 and led the team in stolen bases and OPS while leading the NL in walks. Dave Robertson played center, hit .259 and led the team with 12 home runs. In in un-McGraw-like fashion he had 47 strikeouts and only 10 walks. Joe Wilhoit and Olympic champion Jim Thorpe were the backups. Wilhoit hit .340 in 34 games while Thorpe hit .193 in 26 games, and, for a player noted for his speed, had only one stolen base. Twenty year old Ross Youngs, a future Hall of Famer, got into seven games during the season, hitting .346 with five runs scored.

If there was a proven element on the team, it was the infield. They were, from first around the horn to third, Walter Holke, Buck Herzog, Art Fletcher, and Heinie Zimmerman. Zimmerman was a bona fide star of the era. He won the triple crown in 1912, won an RBI title in 1916, and repeated that title in 1917 (he’d later be banned in the fallout from the Black Sox affair). Both Herzog and Fletcher were favorites of McGraw. Both had been with him since 1909. Herzog actually game up in 1908 and had seen short stints with Cincinnati and the Braves. Fletcher had a fine year, leading the team in WAR, while Herzog was getting over-the-hill. Holke was a rookie (he’d had a few at bats earlier) who hung around at first through 1918 then went to the Braves. He hit .277 with 1.0 WAR.

As a team the Giants led the NL runs, home runs, stolen bases, OBP, was second in average and hits, and  showed up fourth in doubles. In the field the team made the least errors in the NL and was first in fielding percentage. All in all a good, not spectacular team. In many ways it was a typical McGraw team: it pitched well, it ran the bases well, and it was good on defense. What it lacked, and what McGraw had to make up for, was a top-notch pitcher. It is a great credit to him that he managed the team well enough to make up for that things. He would take the team to the World Series, where it would lose to the White Sox.

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About the World of 1908

November 7, 2016

So the Cubs finally win one after 108 years of failure. Normally I use my “A Dozen Things You Should Know About…” format to feature a particular individual. This time I want to use the same format to give you a dozen things about the world of 1908 that may surprise you (or maybe not, depending on you).

1. Theodore Roosevelt was the incumbent 26th President of the US. Number 27, William Howard Taft, would be elected in November but not take office until 1909. The next President will be number 45.

The Duke

The Duke

2. In Hollywood D.W. Griffith would direct his first movie “The Adventures of Dollie.” He would later (1915) make “The Birth of a Nation” which is generally considered the first “blockbuster.” In Winterset, Iowa John Wayne had his first birthday, while James Stewart was born in Pennsylvania, and Humphrey Bogart turned nine on Christmas day.

3. Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Quanah Parker, Geronimo, Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Cole Younger were all still alive. Pat Garrett, the man who shot Billy the Kid, died in February.

Nellie Tayloe Ross

Nellie Tayloe Ross

4. Women were still a decade away from receiving the right to vote in federal elections although a handful of states did allow some female voting in state and local elections. In 1887 Susanna Salter was elected mayor of Argonia, Kansas and the town of Syracuse, Kansas chose an all female city council. But women were 17 years from Nellie Tayloe Ross becoming the first female governor of an American State (Wyoming).

Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand

5. Russia still had a Czar, Germany a Kaiser, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire still existed. Poland didn’t. Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s son, was still on the throne in Great Britain, and Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria, still had six years to live. His assassination in 1914 would set in motion the events leading to World War I.

6. Adolf Hitler was still an unknown postcard painter and paper hanger in Vienna. Erich Maria Remarque (author of All Quiet on the Western Front) was 10. George Patton was a junior at West Point. Dwight Eisenhower was a junior at Abilene High School.

7. Jim Crow was the law of the land in most places, including many outside the American South. The NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) was founded the next year.

8. The Model T from Ford Motor Company came out in October 1908. You had your choice of colors–black or black. Most people took black.

Nora Bayes

Nora Bayes

9. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was published and first sung on a vaudeville stage by Nora Bayes. The words were written by her then husband (second of five) Jack Norwood.

10. Old Tom Morris, one of the first winners of the British Open golf tournament died, as did former US President Grover Cleveland and Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Karsakov.

11. Abe Attell, later infamous in the Black Sox scandal, was Featherweight Boxing Champion, Fred McLeod of Scotland won the US Open Golf tournament for the first and only time, James Braid won his fourth (of five) British Open golf tournament (the PGA doesn’t show up until 1916 and the Masters comes in the 1930s), Jim Thorpe who later became first President of the NFL was in his second year at Carlisle, and a horse named Stone Street won his only major race, the Kentucky Derby, in the slowest Derby time recorded.

12. US coins in circulation included the Indian head cent (the Lincoln penny would come in 1909), the Liberty head nickel (the Buffalo nickel started in 1913), the Barber dime (the Mercury dime began in 1916), and the Barber quarter (the Washington quarter began in 1932). A first class stamp was two cents.

13. And in baseball, Fred Merkle failed to touch second.

Fred Merkle (all pix for this post taken from Wikipedia's page on the individual)

Fred Merkle
(all pix for this post taken from Wikipedia’s page on the individual)

Now you should all go to YouTube and find a recording of the old British ditty “The World Turned Upside Down” to celebrate the Cubs victory.

Opening Day, 1913: National League

April 1, 2013
Jake Daubert in 1913

Jake Daubert in 1913

Opening Day in 1913 was 9 April (10 days later than the current season). There was a single game played that day, Philadelphia defeating Brooklyn 1-0. The other teams opened play later and the National League had a good season, although one without a lot of suspense.

As two-time defending champions, the Giants were formidable still in 1913. Their eight position players remained the same with only Beals Becker missing, replaced by George Burns (not the comedian). Larry Doyle was a star at second, catcher Chief Meyers was a .300 hitter, Fred Merkle, five years removed from his “bonehead” play was a solid first baseman, and manager John McGraw was John McGraw. The heart of the team, however, was the pitching staff. Ace Christy Mathewson would win 25 games, pick up the ERA title (2.06) and walk all of 21 men in 306 innings. Rube Marquard would win 23 games and Jeff Tesreau would add a further 22. The Giants would make it three in a row by 12.4 games. Much of it came when the ran off 14 wins in a row between 26 June and 9 July. By way of contrast they lost four in a row 30 April to 5 May, their longest losing streak. They would go on to lose their third straight World Series in October.

Philadelphia would do well with Gavvy Cravath winning the home run title with 19, adding the RBI title at 128. Although future Hall of Famers Pete Alexander and Eppa Rixey pitched well, the ace was Tom Seaton who had 27 wins and led the NL in strikeouts with 168.

The emerging star was Brooklyn’s Jake Daubert. He would win the batting title at .350 for the sixth place Superbas (“Dodgers” would come later). At season’s end he picked up the Chalmers Award (an early version of the MVP Award), which should probably have gone to Cravath. The fading  star was Pittsburgh’s Honus Wagner. For the last time he hit .300 and for the first time since 1905 didn’t lead the league in any major hitting category (it still got him eighth in the Chalmers Award voting).

The year saw two rookies arrive that would have an impact on the league. On 17 April, Bill James (not the current baseball stats man) made his first appearance for the Braves. He went 6-10 for the season, but was a key to the “Miracle” Braves run in 1914. For the Giants, outfielder Jim Thorpe made his initial appearance on 14 April. He would hit only .143 in limited service. He would make the NFL Hall of Fame and be known as the greatest athlete of the first 50 years of the 20th Century, but baseball was not his dominant sport.

Thanks, King

February 22, 2010

All the way back in 1950, there was a poll that decided the greatest American athlete of the first half of the 20th Century. The big winner was Jim Thorpe. He enters baseball twice, and thus is fodder for me.

Thorpe came out of Oklahoma first achieving fame as a footlball star at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. He also starred at track and field, being half of a two man team one year. There wasn’t a lot of money to be had running college track or playing college football, so Thorpe began playing semi-professional baseball during the summer. He was OK, but it wasn’t his best sport.

In 1912 he entered the Olympics, held in Stockholm, Sweden, winning both the decathlon and the pentathlon gold medals. Those medals were handed to him by the King of Sweden who remarked “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.” Thorpe’s deathless reply was “Thanks, King.” It wasn’t long before Thorpe’s semi-pro baseball career came to the attention of the Olympic committee and he lost both medals because of professionalism (The medals were returned to his family in the 1990s).

In 1913, Thorpe joined the New York Giants as an outfielder. He hit a buck 43 over 19 games with two stolen bases. He stayed with the Giants through 1915 hitting .195 with seven stolen bases in 66 games, 28 in the field (all outfield). He sat out 1916, began 1917 at Cincinnati, did reasonably well (.237 average, 12 stolen bases, 36 RBIs), then was traded back to the Giants. He got into the 1917 World Series, playing one game in the outfield without getting to the plate. The Giants lost the Series. His 1918 was much like his 1917 year, hitting .248 with 11 RBIs in 58 games. He started 1919 at New York and ended up with the Boston Braves, finally hitting over .300 (.327) and having 25 RBIs. It was his final season. For a career he hit .252 with 82 RBIs, 29 stolen bases, and 91 runs in 289 games.

After leaving baseball, Thorpe spent time as President of the newly founded National Football League and played a few games for the Canton Bulldogs. He made the NFL Hall of Fame in 1963. His baseball career was certainly well short of Cooperstown. He died in 1953 in California. He was buried in Pennsylvania in a town that agreed to change its name to Jim Thorpe. In the ESPN poll to determine the greatest athlete of the entire 20th Century, Thorpe, dead for almost 50 years, still finished in the top five.

That Other Hall of Fame

February 18, 2010

You realize how hard it is to particpate in a sport at the professional level. Now imagine being able to do it in two sports. Did you know that there are three people who played Major League Baseball that are members of the Professional Football Hall of Fame?  One even as a World Series ring.

George Halas is primarily famous as the great founding father of the National Football League. He owned and coached the Chicago Bears into the 1960s and won a slew of championships, all before the advent of the Super Bowl. But prior to setting up the NFL, Halas played professional baseball. In 1919, Halas became a switch-hitting outfielder for Miller Huggins’ New York Yankees. In 12 games, six in the outfield, he batted 22 times, had two hits (.091), both singles, struck out eight times and had no errors. He disappears from Major League rosters at that point. One source indicates he suffered a hip injury that ended his career (although a cynic might point to the .091 batting average as another possible cause). Not much of a career. He at least knew where his talents lay. In 1963 he was inducted into football’s Hall of Fame in 1963.

Jim Thorpe was famous in his era as the greatest American athlete (and will get his own post in a few days). He played college football, ran track, appeared in the 1912 Olympics, and joined he New York Giants in 1913. He also played at Cincinnati and with the Boston Braves, ending his career in 1919. Like Halas, he didn’t have a great a career. When the NFL was formed, Thorpe became its first president and played a little at Canton. He joined Halas in making the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1963. He was also inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.

Of the three, Greasy Neale was the most successful baseball man. He played from 1916 through 1922 and then again in 1924. He hit .259 with eight home runs, 139 stolen bases, 319 runs scored, and 200 RBIs in 768 games. He was the primary left fielder for the Cincinnati Reds through 1920, then went to Philadelphia for a while in 1921, returning to Cincinnati late in 1921 and ending his career there. He led the NL in fielding percentage in 1919 (.981) and was considered a solid outfielder. In the 1919 World Series, which Cincinnati won, Neale played in all eight games hitting .357 with 10 hits, three runs scored and four RBIs.

While playing baseball in the summer, Neale played and coached football in the offseason, taking the Washington and Jefferson college team to the 1922 Rose Bowl (they played to a 0-0 tie against the University of California). After retirement from baseball, he went on to a stellar coaching career in football, leading  the University of Virginia in the 1920s and the University of West Virginia in the 1930s. In 1941 he took over the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and led them to the NFL championship in both 1948 and 1949. He retired after the 1950 season and died in 1973. In 1969 he was selected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame. Additionally he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1967, becoming, with the 1969 election, the first man to be a member of both football Halls as a coach.

There have been other people who played both baseball and another professional sport. As late as the 1959 Dick Ricketts played for the Cardinals and in the National Basketball Association and, of course, basketball star Michael Jordan made it to the Minor Leagues just a few years ago. But Halas, Thorpe, and Neale are the only ones to  achieve immortality in the Professional Football Hall of Fame.

Double No-No

February 17, 2010

The other truly odd game of 1917 occurred on the 2nd of May. This game was in the National League and pitted home team Chicago against the Cincinnati Reds. It became famous at the double no hitter.

The Cubs sent lefty Jim “Hippo” Vaughn to the mound. There are a couple of stories about his nickname. One says it had to do with his size, the other with the way he walked. Don’t know which is true, but the Sports Encylcopedia: Baseball  lists him as 6’4″ and 214 pounds, not exactly hippo-like numbers. He was opposed by Cincinnati ace right-hander Fred Toney.

Both pitchers managed to get through a regulation game without giving up a hit. Both had a couple of walks, with Cubs outfielder Cy Williams being the only Chicago base runner (on two walks). In the tenth inning, Vaughn managed to get the first out, then light hitting shortstop Larry Kopf singled for the first hit of the day by either team. For the year Kopf was a .255 hitter with no power, a little speed (17 stolen bases), and a handful of runs (81). He went to third on an error and came home on a single by backup outfielder Jim Thorpe (Yes, that Jim Thorpe). Thorpe hit all of .247 for the year with 36 RBIs, none more famous than bringing home Kopf. Vaughn then shut down the Reds and Toney took the mound. He set the Cubs down in order to pick up the win and notch his only no hitter.

For years baseball carried the game as the only double no hitter ever pitched. When they changed the rules recently, Vaughn’s effort was washed away and only Toney now gets credit for a no hitter. I guess that’s fair, but it is kind of a shame.

For the season the Cubs ended up 5th 24 games back. Vaughn won 23 games against 13 losses with an ERA of 2.01 and 195 strikeouts. The Reds finished just ahead of Chicago in 4th place 20 games back. Toney was 24-16 with a 2.20 ERA and 123 strikeouts.

Over their careers, Vaughn did slightly better finishing 178-137 over 390 games with 1416 strikeouts and a 2.49 ERA. Toney was 137-102 (a better winning percentage) over 336 games with 718 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.69. But for one day, they were both superb and Toney was better.

This finishes a run of 3 posts on no hitters in 1917. In fairness, I need to point out there were 2 others that year, both in April. Eddie Cicotte of Chicago no hit the Browns on the 14th (and perhaps the two no hitters in May were payback by the Browns) and George Mogridge no hit the Red Sox on the 24th.  There were six no hitters in 1917. That ties 1908, 1915, 1969, and 1990 for most in a single season.