Posts Tagged ‘Mark Prior’

1911: A Flash in the Pan

April 15, 2011

Vean Gregg with Cleveland

When I was researching the 1911 season for the two short posts I did earlier this week, I ran across the pitcher Vean Gregg who won the American League ERA title in 1911. I’d never heard of him, so I did a little looking around. Here’s what I found out about an interesting and truly obscure player.

Sylveanus Gregg was born in Washington Territory (now the state of Washington) in 1885. The nickname “Vean” comes from the middle letters of his first name (and I think is pronounced to rhyme with “peon”, but it could rhyme with “pe-can”, like the nut). His dad was a farmer and plasterer and the son learned both professions, apparently becoming quite adept at the plastering. It strengthened his arm greatly, and he had one of those rare items that baseball loves, a left arm that could control a baseball in flight.

Gregg pitched semi-pro ball, had a stint at South Dakota State, and eventually ended up with the Cleveland Naps (now the Indians). He found he could make more money barnstorming on the weekends and plastering during the week than he could make in professional baseball, so waited until 1908 to take the contract with a minor league team (Can you imagine that kind of salary structure today?). He spent two seasons in the minors, then was picked up by Cleveland. He refused the money and stayed one more year in the local Washington state minors, where he said he could make more money. Finally in 1911 went to Cleveland as a left-handed starter.

Although he was left-handed, he was essentially the replacement for Addie Joss. Gregg did well replacing the Hall of Famer. He went 23-7, won the ERA title as a rookie, struck out 125 men, and had a lot more innings pitched than hits allowed (a league leading WHIP of 1.054). It was his best year. He as 20-13 in both 1912 and 1913 with ERA’s in the twos, then developed a  sore arm. He started 1914 with Cleveland, went 9-3 with an ERA over three, and was traded to the Red Sox. He finished 3-4 in Boston with an ERA of almost four, then managed only 39 games over 1915 and 1916.

He spent 1917 in the minors (Providence), then played 1918 in Philadelphia for the rebuilding Athletics. He went 9-14 and retired to a ranch in Canada he bought with his baseball salary. He stayed there through 1921. He returned to baseball, joining Pacific Coast League Seattle and had three terrific seasons. In 1925, at age 40, he was sold to Washington where he went 2-2 with a 4.12 ERA in 26 games (only five starts). He missed the 1925 World Series (which Washington lost), then left the Major Leagues for good.

He played minor league baseball off and on through 1931, then retired to run an “Emporium” in Hoquiam, Washington. The business had a lunch counter and sold both sporting goods and cigars. He died in July 1964. He was elected to the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame, the Washington State Sports Hall of Fame, and in 1969 was chosen by fans the greatest Indians left-hander (which may say more about Cleveland pitching than about Gregg).

For his career, Gregg ended up 92-63 (a .594 winning percentage) over 1393 innings and 239 games  (about six innings per game). Struck out 720 batters, walked 552, and gave up 1240 hits (for a WHIP of 1.286). Although three of his teams, the 1915 and 1916 Red Sox and the 1925 Senators went to the World Series, Gregg never appeared in a Series game.

There are a lot of pitchers like Gregg. They are early phenoms who develop arm trouble early and end up with short but flashy careers that end up appearing disappointing. It seems to be especially true of southpaws. Mark Prior, although not a lefty, is a modern version of the type. There are lots of others in the history of the game. With an ERA title in his rookie season, Gregg could easily be a poster child for the type.

Tom, Dick, and Larry: Dick

May 25, 2010

Dick Rudolph

When I’ve been doing these short comments on Deadball Era players, I’ve almost always chosen position players. Today I want to change that and look at a pitcher. I’ve chosen Dick Rudolph.

 Rudolph came out of New York City via Fordham University to a minor league career in New England and Canada. He got a cup of coffee with the Giants in 1910 and 11, did poorly, and went back to the minors. The Braves brought him to Boston in 1913. He was  a “junk ball” pitcher with a good curve, but not much of a fastball. As is usual for these kinds of pitchers, he got by on location and the curve. He was 14-13 in 1913, then became the ace of the Braves staff in 1914, going 26-10. That was the year of the “Miracle Braves.” In last place in July, they came to life and rolled to a pennant, then crushed the world champion Philadelphia Athletics in four straight games in the World Series. Rudolph being the winning pitcher in both games one and four.

After that, he had two more good years going 22-19 in 1915 and 19-12 in 1916. It was his last year with a winning record. In 1918 he developed soreness in his arm. His ERA’s remained good through 1919 and part of his record is a reflection of the declining quality of the team. By 1921 he became a coach who pitched occasionally (8 games over 7 years). He did some work in the minors as an owner, then became the supervisor for the concessionaire at both the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium. He died in 1949.

For his career, Rudolph was 121-109 (.526 winning percentage) over 279 games (almost all starts). He had more innings pitched than hits and struck out about twice as many men as he walked. His career ERA was 2.66. Then there are the two World Series wins. His postseason ERA was 0.50 wth 15 strikeouts in 18 innings. He also went 2 for 6 as a hitter and scored a run in the Series.

Rudolph is a good example of a fairly common type of pitcher. They go back all the way to the beginning of the Major Leagues and continue today. It’s the pitcher who has a short, but productive, few years then sees his career collapse for whatever reason, usually an injury.  This type still flourishes today, note Mark Prior as an example. Rudolph is one of those that managed to parlay his short period of excellence into a championship.