Posts Tagged ‘Josh Devore’

1914: The Miracle Team

October 10, 2014
Johnny Evers and George Stallings (left and right)

Johnny Evers and George Stallings (left and right)

The Boston team was one of the best 19th Century baseball clubs. In the 1870s they’d dominated the National Association, then won consecutive pennants in the first years of the National League. There was a hiatus in the 1880s, but they roared back to be one of the great clubs of the 1890s. Their owner was a jerk (but so were a lot of 19th Century owners) so when the American League was formed, most of the good players jumped to the new league. Boston, the National League version, languished for the entire first decade of the 20th Century. Trying to return to relevancy, in 1913 they hired George Stallings to manage the team.

Stallings had been a so-so player in the 1880s and 1890s, who’d managed Philadelphia in the National League and both Detroit and New York in the American League. He’d never won a pennant, finishing as high as second in 1910, but was considered a good judge of talent. He was given a team that had little talent and got them to fifth in 1913. By 1914 he was starting to figure out how to do the best he could with what he had. That meant he pushed for and got a series of good trades and then instituted a platoon system (he didn’t invent platooning, but merely used it). As most of you know, on 4 July, Boston, now called the Braves, was in last place in the NL. The traditional story is they got hot and eventually ran away with the pennant. That’s true, to a point. On 4 July they lost both ends of a double-header, dropping them to 26-40. But third place St. Louis had 35 loses. So the NL was tightly bunched and any kind of streak was destined to move them up in the standings. By 4 August they were 47-45 (heck of a month, right?), now in fourth place, and two games out of second. By 4 September, they were a half game back of the league leading Giants. From that point they went 28-7 and coasted to the pennant (running away only in September) . Among other things, it got Stallings the nickname “Miracle Man.”

So who were these guys? Butch Schmidt played first. Hall of Fame middle infielders Johnny Evers (who would win the 1914 MVP award) and Rabbit Maranville were at second and short. Charlie Deal was the normal third baseman, but Red Smith (not the journalist) did a lot of work at third. Larry Gilbert, Les Mann, and Joe Connolly did more work in the outfield than anyone else, but the platoon system worked primarily in the outfield and Josh Devore, George “Possum” Whitted, and Ted Cather spelled them. The only category in which they led the league was walks, although they were second in runs and doubles, and third in home runs and OBP.

Catcher Hank Gowdy (who has been touted in some Hall of Fame conversations, although I wouldn’t vote for him) handled a staff of Dick Rudolph, Bill James, and Lefty Tyler. None had particularly remarkable careers prior to 1914 and little was expected of them when the season began, but they led the league in complete games, and were second in shutouts, while finishing third in both hits and runs allowed. As an individual, James led the NL in winning percentage.

Nothing much was expected of Boston in the World Series. It was supposed to be a Philadelphia walkover. After all, the NL hadn’t won in a while and everyone knew the Braves were a fluke.

 

Opening Day 1911: NL

April 11, 2011

Christy Mathewson

Last year I went into a detailed (perhaps overly detailed) look at the 1910 season. I don’t intend to repeat that with 1911, but 12 April was opening day in 1911 and I think we should celebrate the season 100 years later. It was, if not as significant as 1910, still a very interesting year. First the National League.

The old Cubs dynasty died. Both Frank Chance and Johnny Evers spent much of the year on the bench and in Chance’s case it was to be permanent. For the rest of his career Frank Chance would play only 56 games. Evers, on the other hand, would bounce back and have several more productive seasons, culminating with a Chalmers Award (and early MVP  Award) and a World Series championship in 1914.

The Giants took Chicago’s place as the reigning dynasty. John McGraw’s team won the pennant despite seeing their stadium burn. They spent most of the season as guests of the Highlanders (now the Yankees), but returned to their own stadium in August. They managed to go on a hot streak in August  and took the championship by 7.5 games.

A number of players had superb seasons. Honus Wagner hit .334 and won his final batting title for the Pirates. His OPS also led the league at .930. Chicago’s Wildfire Schulte led the NL with 21 home runs, the most by a player since 1899. Schulte and Owen Wilson of Pittsburgh tied with 107 RBIs. Schulte would walk away with the NL’s Chalmers Award (and the new car that went with it).

The biggest news was among the pitchers. Grover Cleveland Alexander had what was arguably the finest rookie season of any pitcher in the 20th Century. He led the NL in wins with 28, shutouts with seven, and pitched 31 complete games. Giants ace Christy Mathewson put up 26 wins and led the NL with an ERA of 1.99. In 307 innings he walked a total of 38 men. As good as that sounds, he would do even better in 1912. His teammate lefty Rube Marquard led the league in strikeouts with 237.

Unfortunately, the pennant was all the Giants could manage, dropping the World Series in six games. Mathewson and Doc Crandall got the two wins with Mathewson and Marquard taking three of the losses (Red Ames took the loss in game six). the team hit .175 for the Series with Larry Doyle and Chief Meyers managing to hit .300 with Josh Devore leading in both RBIs and strikeouts.

It’s a year to look back on and celebrate. We can look at the greatness of Honus Wagner, the genius of John McGraw, and the pitching prowess of Christy Mathewson. That’s worth celebrating, even if the NL lost the World Series.

1910: Giants Postmortem

October 2, 2010

John McGraw’s Giants were the last team eliminated from World Series contention in the National League. They finished the season in second place, 13 games back. Their record was 91-63, one game worse than 1909. But the Giants were a team on the rise.

They were also a typical McGraw team, with the emphasis on team not individual. Of the eight everyday starters only Fred Snodgrass and Josh Devore hit .300, but every other starter was between .292 and .260. There were a lot of stolen bases with Red Murray leading the team with 57, second in the NL. It was a team effort rather than one or two great players with a bunch of role players helping them out.

The Giants had one of the better benches in the league. Of six players getting into 20 or more games (and only 6th place Brooklyn had more bench players with 20 or more games), three hit over .250 (as did pitcher Doc Crandall). Both Beals Becker and Cy Seymour had double figure stolen bases and slugging  percentages over .325 (a good percentage in the Deadball Era).

Of course the key to a McGraw team was the pitching staff. The Giants were good without being great. Christy Mathewson led the NL with 27 wins, second in strikeouts, and had only 60 walks in 318 innings. The rest of the staff wasn’t nearly that good, but Crandall was 17-4 in 42 games (but only 18 starts). The other three men starting 20 games or more were 14-12, 12-11, and 2-10, but all had more innings than hits and more strikeouts than walks. Additionally 23-year-old Rube Marquard was 4-4 with a 2.47 ERA and would come into his own in 1911 (24-7 and a league leading 237 strikeouts).

If 1910 was a disappointment to the Giants, there were signs that they would be good in 1911. Unlike the Pirates they were rising. It so happened that the Cubs were also ready to fall off, thus 1911 would be a banner year for New York.

Opening Day, 1910: New York (NL)

April 8, 2010

John J. McGraw

In 1908 the Giants lost the National League pennant on the last day of the season (the so called “Merkle Game”). They slipped in 1909, finishing third, 12 games out of second. John McGraw, never content with anything but first place, began retooling his team for the 1910 pennant run.

He did it by going with a group of bench players who replaced the more established players in the field. In doing so he dropped the average age of his postion players from 28 to 26 years of age, the youngest in the league (actually tied wth Cincinnati).  Gone were first baseman Fred Tenney, center fielder Bill O’Hara, and left fielder Moose McCormick. In their place came new first baseman and seven hitter Fred Merkle (of “Bonehead” infamy), Fred Snodgrass in center and hitting third, and Josh Devore the left fielder and new lead off man.

Staying in the starting line up were two hitter and second baseman Larry Doyle (the 1909 league leader in hits), shortstop and five hitter Al Bridwell, Art Devlin the third baseman and six hitter, and right fielder Red Murray who hit clean up. The 1909 backup catcher had been Chief Meyers. He now took over the starting spot, and the eight hole. Former starter Admiral Schlei slid onto the bench. Holdover Cy Symour and newcomer Beals Becker (from National League rival Boston) were the substitute outfielders, while Art Fletcher and Tilly Shafer remained backup infielders.

The pitching staff was the heart of a McGraw team. Christy Mathewson was the ace. He led the NL in winning percentage and ERA in 1909. Hooks Wiltse, Red Ames, and Bugs Raymond remained from the ’09 team. Reliever Doc Crandall stayed in the bullpen, and newcomer Rube Marquard was on the roster as a spot starter.

As usual for the Giants of the era, the team was built around pitching, defense, and speed. It was younger, faster, and hit better. Most New Yorkers expected it to compete for a pennant and a return to the World Series, the Giants’ first since 1905.

Next: Cincinnati

Miracles, 1914 Style

January 25, 2010

If ever there was a year full of miracles it was 1914. In June a bunch of half-trained adolescents killed a married couple in Sarajevo and all hell broke loose in the form of the First World War. The early part of the war gave us The Angel of Mons (a miraculous winged vision that led a lost British unit to safety), the Miracle at Tannenberg (when a vastly outnumbered German army destroyed a Russian army), and the Miracle of the Marne (when the French stopped the advancing Germans within sight of Paris). By December 1914, a lot of men simply saw it as a miracle that they were still alive.

Baseball had its own miracle, the 1914 Boston (now Atlanta) Braves. The Braves were a dominant force in the National League at the end of the 19th Century, but fell on hard times in the early 20th. Betwen 1910 and 1912 they finished dead last each year. By 1913 they climbed to 5th under new manager George Stallings.  Stallings was a former catcher who played 7 games in the 1890s managing to bat an even 100 for his career. He took over a floundering franchise and by 18 July 1914 it looked like the team wasn’t going to stop floundering anytime soon. They were dead last again in the league 13.5 games out of first. According to legend that’s when Stallings installed a platoon system, picked up a handful of has-beens and never-was types, and the team took off. The Braves won 34 of their last 44 games, swept past the New York Giants and won the pennant by 10.5 games. In roughly half a season they made up 24 games.

If that wasn’t shocking enough, they went into the World Series against the defending World Champion Philadelphia Athletics and swept the series. Game one was a blowout (7-1),  but the others were close (1-0, 5-4, and 3-1).  The Braves outhit the A’s 244 to 172 and had the only home run (catcher Hank Gowdy, who also led all hitters with a 545 average, led the series with 3 runs scored and tied for the RBI lead with 3). The team ERA was 1.15 versus the A’s ERA of 3.41.

OK, so who are these people? Most of them were role players in their own day, and thus don’t become household names passed down through the roughly century since they played. From first around to third, the infield was Butch Schmidt, Johnny Evers (a Hall of Famer primarily known for his work with the Cubs), Rabbit Maranville (also a Hall of Famer), and Charle Deal. The outfield, where most of the platooning took place was Possum Whitted, Les Mann, Joe Connolly, Josh Devore, and Ted Cather (the latter two came over in midseason and helped the run to the top). Hank Gowdy caught with Bert Whaling as his backup. The only other players to notch 50 or more games was Red Smith, another late season add on who spelled Deal at 3rd and Oscar Dugey who seems to have been the primary pinch hitter. The main pichers were Dick Rudolph, Bill James (as far as I can tell, no relation to the modern stats man), and Lefty Tyler. Dick Crutcher was the main bullpen man.

So what happened to make them winners? First, Stallings gets credit for the platoon system. Second, a number of mid-season additions provided a spark that led the team to victory. The pitchers developed. As a staff they allowed the 2nd fewest runs in the league. Rudolph was 14-13 the year before. In 1914 he went 26-10 and lowered his ERA by a half run. James came out of nowhere. He’d played 2 mediocre years previously. The blog “The On Deck Circle”  just did a wonderful piece on One Year Wonders (check it out).  He used only the last 20 years to define his people, but if he’d gone back 100, he might have chosen James. He ended with a losing record for his career (and was banned in the gambling scandal that blew up after 1919). Fourth, the hitters were better than an initial look at their stats might show. They were second in the league in OBP, third in slugging, and second in OPS. They were also 2nd in the league in runs. Additionally, the Chalmers Award, an early MVP award, was given for the final time in 1914. The NL winner? Braves second baseman Johnny Evers. I’m not sure why. He hits 279, third on the team, is fourth in stolen bases, 6th in slugging and 5th in RBIs.  He does lead the team in runs. Fielding stats show him a decent, but not spectacular 2nd baseman. I presume there is a leadership factor involved that I don’t know about (but am willing to learn about if anyone knows).

All those things taken together can lead to a pennant. For the 1914 Braves it did. They’ve been the “Miracle Braves” since.