Posts Tagged ‘Lave Cross’

The Water in Philadelphia

October 29, 2018

“water, water everywhere.”–Coleridge

A couple of days ago I did a little thing on those players who hit .400 and failed to win a batting title. In 1894 there were four of them, all in Philadelphia. I commented that there must have been something in the water. So let’s take a quick look at what was going on in Philly in 1894.

First we have to acknowledge that after the 1892 season, Major League Baseball, which at that point consisted solely of the National League, moved the pitcher back to 60″ 6′ and built a mound. It changed forever the way pitchers worked and how batter could respond. It made an immediate difference in the game. As just one example, in 1892 Dan Brouthers won the batting title at .335. In 1893 Billy Hamilton (who will be one of the waterboys in Philadelphia in 1894) won the title at .380. The last time a NL batting title was won by hitting over .380 was in 1886 by King Kelly who’d hit .388 (there were American Association titles that were higher, but the AA was gone by 1894). On the other hand strikeouts by pitchers dropped from Bill Hutchinson’s 314 to Amos Rusie’s 208. It wouldn’t be until 1904 (Rube Waddell) that the 314 would be surpassed.

So acknowledging all that, what about the Phillies? In 1894 the team hit a team average of .350 and led the NL in hits. The starters were (with their batting average in parens) catcher Jack Clements (.351), and infield of (from first around to third) Jack Boyle (.300-lowest among the starters), Bill Hallman (.312), Joe Sullivan (.353), Lave Cross (.387), and an outfield of “Sliding” Billy Hamilton (.403), Ed Delahanty (.405), and Sam Thompson (.415). On the bench Tuck Turner who got into 82 games and had 347 at bats) was the backup outfielder and led the team with a .418 average. Backup catcher Mike Grady hit .363 in 61 games. From there the remainder of the reserves fell off with shortstop Tom Murray going 0 for 2 and hitting .000 (this doesn’t count pitchers who had some terrible averages also).

What did all that hitting get the Phillies? It got them a record of 71-57, good for fourth place in the NL (behind Boston, New York, and pennant winner Baltimore who went 89-39), 18 games behind the winner and 10 games out of third place. The problem? Their team had the second highest ERA (5.63) in the league, were seventh in hits (in a 12 team league), and also seventh in strikeouts.

What’s it all mean? Well, maybe good pitching does beat good hitting. Or maybe it just means that the 1894 Philadelphia Phillies could hit a lot, but didn’t pitch nearly as well. In case you’re curious, only Hamilton, Delahanty, and Thompson made the Hall of Fame. Again, thought you just might like to know.

Decimation of a Team

March 23, 2010

There was a policy in the 19th Century that one man could own interest in two different Major League teams. It started out innocently enough because some teams were struggling and it was in the interest of the league to keep them afloat. So an owner of one team would loan the other money to help the second team survive the season. In return he could claim a stake in the team. This began to spiral, other factors got involved, owners worked to set up cabals and partnerships, and by 1899 it had reached the point were certain individuals owned two teams. One such combination was St. Louis and Cleveland.

Frederick and Stanley Robison owned the Cleveland Spiders (not the same team as the modern Indians). By 1899 they had also gained a controlling interest in the St. Louis Browns (now the Cardinals). St. Louis provided a significantly greater baseball market than Cleveland (St Louis was the fourth largest market in the US in 1899), so the Robisons decided to put all their good ballplayers on one team and try to capture a pennant with the St. Louis team.

In 1898 the Cleveland starting eight were Patsy Tabeau (who also managed), Cupid Childs, Larry McKean, and Hall of Famer Bobby Wallace in the infield. The outfield was Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett, Jim McAleer, and Harry Blake. The catcher was Lou Criger, and three pitchers had double figure wins: Cy Young, Jack Powell, and Zeke Wilson. They finished fifth. By 1899 all of them except McAleer, who was out of the Major Leagues, were at St. Louis in 1899. With Tabeau again managing, they managed fifth place, the same place Cleveland finished the year previously.

The Spiders got what was the worst of the two rosters dumped in the same place, added in a few rookies, tossed in a couple of old-timers trying to hang on and attempted to create a viable team. What they got was a disaster. Third baseman Lave Cross took over as manager. Thirty-eight games into the season the team was 8-30 and Cross was hitting .286. He was promptly sold to St Louis where he took over much of the third base work. Backup outfielder Ossee Schreckengost hit .313 and took 43 games to end up in St. Louis where he settled in as a backup catcher. Starting catcher Chief Zimmer hit .342 and got out after only 20 games.

When Cross left for St. Louis, second baseman Joe Quinn got the managerial job. He stayed the entire year, despite hitting .286 with 72 RBIs and 176 hits (a sure call to St. Louis if Cleveland hadn’t needed a manager). The team hit .253, dead last in the league, was last in slugging, in RBIs (by more than 100), runs (by almost 200), hits, doubles, triples, home runs (although only by one homer), stolen bases, fans in the stands, hot dogs sold, and just about anything else you can think of.

If possible, the pitching was worse. Jim Hughey went 4-30, Charlie Knepper 4-22, Frank Bates was 1-18. The team ERA was 6.37 almost two full runs higher than the next team (Washington at 4.93). Harry Lochhead pitched 3.2 innings, gave up no earned runs, and became the only pitcher without a losing record. He went 0-0.

The last half of the season, Cleveland played every game on the road, even “home” games. No one was in the Cleveland park (except maybe the grounds crew) and the only way to pick up any money was to go on the road. Apparently on the rare occasions anyone showed up, the most common sound was “boo” and beer sales exceeded hot dogs and peanuts (Wouldn’t watching this team make you want to drink?).

They finished (hide your eyes if you’re squemish) 20-134, 84 games out of first. Their winning percentage was .130. By comparison the infamous 1962 Mets had a winning percentage of .250 and only finished 60.5 games out of first. The Spiders went 11-101 on the road and 9-33 in Cleveland. It was, as I said earlier, a disaster.

Fortunately it did change a few things. The National League had twelve teams and it was becoming increasingly evident that it couldn’t sustain that many and be profitable. So for 1900, four teams were eliminated. The Spiders were one of them. A handful of the players let go when the league contracted were pretty good. Western Association president Ban Johnson scooped up most of them and they became part of the nucleus of the American League in 1901. Because the other owners with two teams had done the same thing as the Robison brothers, all four eliminated teams were owned by other teams. This brought, by default, an end to dual ownership. As far as I can tell, that was unintended.

I’ve always felt a little sorry for the players. It must have been awful knowing you were going to lose every day. It had to have been a gnawing hurt for both managers, knowing that no matter what you tried, you just didn’t have the talent to compete. Mostly I feel sorry for the fans. They put out money to see competitive baseball and got the Spiders instead. After 42 games they just quit coming.

What happened in Cleveland was horrific. It is a great blackmark on baseball. There were bad teams before, there’ve been bad teams since, but nothing like the Spiders.