Posts Tagged ‘Paddy Livingston’

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.

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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