Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia Athletics’

The Camera Eye

June 29, 2015
Max Bishop

Max Bishop

Back when I first became interested in studying baseball, rather than merely watching the game, I had (and still have to some extent) a love of the 1929-1931 Philadelphia Athletics. They were a great team that managed to sideline the Ruth-Gehrig Yankees for three seasons and were an interesting bunch in and of themselves. But I wondered about something. I couldn’t quite understand why, on a team full of excellent players, Max Bishop led off.

Bishop was born in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania in 1899. He was a good amateur player who moved to Baltimore at age 14 and caught the attention of the minor league Baltimore Orioles who signed him as a third baseman in 1918. While playing for the birds in the summer, he attended Baltimore City College in the fall and spring, playing second base for the college team. In 1919, the Orioles switched him to second also.

His play with Baltimore was good enough that both the A’s and the Boston Red Sox were interested in obtaining him. The Athletics landed him in late 1923 and he began the 1924 season as their primary second baseman. He developed rapidly a great batting eye (hence the nickname “Camera Eye”) and moved to lead off for Philadelphia, a position in the batting order he held for most of his career. He usually hit in the .270 to .250 range, once getting into the .300s and once dropping as low as .230. He had no power, little speed (his top stolen base total was 10 in 1928), but with the power hitters Connie Mack had behind him, he was never going to be asked to steal a lot of bases. He walked a lot, having more than 100 bases on balls in eight of 12 campaigns (and 80 or more two other times). He was a decent second baseman, never among the top fielding men in the American League, but a solid middle of the pack keystone player (although he did win three fielding percentage titles).

In the glory years of 1929-1931 he was a major contributor to the team, but hardly a star. He had 10 home runs in the inflated air of 1930, led the AL in walks in 1929, scored over 100 runs each year (and also in 1928), and had 150 or more total bases each year. In his three World Series appearances he hit only .182, but had 12 walks, and scored 11 runs. His World Series OBP was .316.

With the team floundering and cash running out, Mack sold Bishop to Boston (the Red Sox, not the Braves) in 1934 (along with Lefty Grove and Rube Walberg). He played two final years in Boston, never getting into 100 games, and in 1936 moved to Portland to become player-manager of the Pacific Coast League team. He got hurt, couldn’t play second, and was fired in May. He played a few games with Baltimore, then became a scout, managed a little, then took over the baseball team at the Naval Academy. He stayed there 24 years, putting up winning season after winning season. He retired after the 1961 season and died in February 1962. He is buried in Baltimore.

For his career Bishop has the following triple slash line: .271/.423/.366/.789 (OPS+ of 103. In 1338 games he had 1216 hits, 236 doubles, 35 triples, 41 home runs, for 1645 total bases. He had 379 RBIs, 40 stolen bases (and was caught stealing 51 times), 1156 walks (about .86 per game), and only 452 strikeouts. He’s never gotten much support for the Hall of Fame, peaking at 1.9% of the vote in 1960.

Bishop, to answer my childhood question, led off because he got on base a lot.  He had a very good On Base Percentage, a statistic I’d never heard of at the time. Hidden in his lack of power, speed, and high average was the ability to draw a walk and get on base in front of the big guns of Al Simmons and Jimmie Foxx hitting behind him. It was a successful formula that helped Philadelphia to three pennants and two World Series championships.

Bishop's tombstone

Bishop’s tombstone

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A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Connie Mack

November 20, 2014
Connie Mack as a player

Connie Mack as a player

1. He was born Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy in Massachusetts in 1862. His more well know name is a shortening of both his first and last names.

2. He was a Major League catcher between 1886 and 1896, playing he entire career in the National League, except for a stint in the 1890 Player’s League. He hit all of .245 with five home runs.

3. He was player manager at Pittsburgh between 1894 and 1896 inclusive. After retiring he managed Milwaukee in the Western League between 1897 and 1899 inclusive.

4. In 1901 he was made manager of the Philadelphia team (called the Athletics after a previous team) in the newly formed American League. Almost immediately he moved to gain at least partial ownership of the team. He took 25% ownership in 1901 with sporting goods mogul Ben Shibe taking 50% and a pair of local sports writers owning the other 25%. In 1913 he bought out the two writers and became co-owner with Shibe. He handled baseball operations and Shibe the business side of the team. In 1937 he became majority owner of the A’s.

5. He was known as an excellent judge of talent and for judicious use of his catchers despite a limited roster.

6. His Athletics won the second American League pennant in 1902, then participated in the second World Series in 1905 (there was no Series in 1902). They lost in five games to the New York Giants.

7. During the years 1910 through 1914 the A’s won pennants in 1910, 1911, 1913, and 1914. They won the World Series in the first three of those seasons.

8. Due to financial considerations Mack lost most of his quality players in 1915, had a disastrous 1916 (36-117 record), then began rebuilding.

9. Between 1929 and 1931 the A’s won three more pennants and the World Series in both 1929 and 1930. That made Mack the only manager to win back-to-back World Series’ twice. Both Casey Stengel (5 in a row) and Joe McCarthy (4 in a row) won at least three in a row later.

10. Again in financial trouble, he sold off his best players and never recovered. After 1933 his team never finished in the first division again. The team also suffered because Mack failed to create a “farm” system until late and did a poor job in signing quality Negro League players once the Major Leagues integrated beginning in 1947.

11. By 1950 he was in failing health and although still manager, was having his coaches make most of the on field decisions.

12. He retired after the 1950 season with 3731 wins, 3948 losses (both records), nine pennants, and five World Championships (not counting his 1902 championship–a year without a  World Series). He died in 1956.

13. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937.

Mack's grave

Mack’s grave

 

28 June 1914: the AL

June 25, 2014
Harry Coveleski

Harry Coveleski

Continuing a look at where Major League Baseball stood on 28 June 1914, the date the assassination in Sarajevo began the process that ushered in World War I. Today the American League gets a view.

As with the Federal League there were only three games played on Sunday the 28th of June. Two were a double-header between the St. Louis Browns and the Chicago White Sox. The other a single game between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Naps (now the Indians). Chicago and Cleveland were the home teams.

In game one in Chicago, the Sox took ten innings to dispatch the Browns 2-1. Losing pitcher Bill James (obviously neither the guy pitching for the Braves that season nor the modern stats guy) gave up two unearned runs, both to left fielder Ray Demmitt. He also game up three walks, two of them to Demmitt. He struck out four and saw the game lost on an error. For the White Sox, righty Jim Scott gave up only one run. It was earned. He also walked three, but struck out ten (James had four strikeouts). For James it was his fifth loss against seven wins while Scott picked up his seventh win against eight losses.

In the nightcap, the White Sox completed the sweep winning another 10 inning game, this time 3-2. Later Black Sox player Buck Weaver scored one run, fellow Black Sox Eddie Cicotte started the game. Later White Sox players Shano Collins and Ray Schalk played. Collins scored a run and knocked in another. Schalk had three hits with an RBI. Third baseman Jim Breton playing in his last season stole home. Hall of Famer Red Faber entered the game in the 10th and picked up his fifth win against two losses. Cicotte went eight innings giving up both runs. Joe Benz pitched one inning in relief giving up no hits and no walks. Browns starter Carl Weilman also went eight innings, giving up two earned runs. Reliever George Baumgardner took the loss to run his record to 7-6.

The game in Cleveland was more high scoring than both Chicago games combined. With Ty Cobb taking the day off, the Tigers won 6-4. After spotting Cleveland a run in the top of the first, they struck for four runs in the bottom of the inning. Naps starter Fred Blanding only managed two outs before being pulled. He would take the loss running his record to 1-8. Detroit later tacked on single runs in both the third and the sixth, with Cleveland getting one in the fifth and two in the seventh. Harry Coveleski (brother of Hall of Fame pitcher Stan Coveleski) got the win going five innings to set his record at 11-6. Hooks Dauss pitched for innings for his third save (a stat that didn’t exist in 1914). Hall of Fame player Sam Crawford went one for three with a walk and a strikeout for the Tigers while fellow Hall of Famer Nap LaJoie went one for three and was involved in two double plays.

At the end of the day, Philadelphia was three games up on Detroit in the standings with St. Louis 4.5 back in third. Chicago was sixth, 6.5 back (but still had a winning record at 33-32). Cleveland was dead last 16 games back. By seasons end Cleveland and Chicago would maintain the positions, although Chicago would have a losing record. The Browns would drop to fifth (and also have a losing record), while Detroit would end up in fourth (with a winning record). Philadelphia would remain in first, winning the pennant by 8.5 games. It would, of course, lose the World Series in four straight games.

Wally Schang, Mack’s other Catcher

March 10, 2014
Wally Schang while playing with Philadelphia

Wally Schang while playing with Philadelphia

As I mentioned in the post just below, the Philadelphia Athletics used three catchers during their 1910-1914 dynasty. The other post looked briefly at Jack Lapp and Ira Thomas. This one looks at Wally Schang,easily the best of the three.

Walter Schang was born in South Wales, New York, a town just south of Buffalo, in 1889. His dad caught for the local town team and two of his brothers also played ball, Bobby making it to the Majors (1914 and 1915 with the Pirates and Giants and again in 1927 with the Cardinals). In 1912, Wally caught on with the Buffalo Bisons of the International League (managed by George Stallings, later manager of his opponent in the 1914 World Series). In 1913 he made the Majors with the A’s. He got into 79 games with Philadelphia, then played four games against the Giants in the World Series. He hit .357 in the Series with a home run after hitting just.266 in the regular season.

By 1914, he’d become the Athletics primary catcher. He led all American League catchers with a .287 average and with 45 RBIs. He did terribly in the 1914 World Series (as did the A’s as a team), slumped in 1915, then had a great year (for him) in 1916. The 1916 A’s were one of the worst teams in AL history going 36-117. Schang, switched to the outfield in 1916 (he played a few outfield games in 1915 and again later in his career) led the team with seven home runs, two coming on 8 September when he became the first switch hitter to slug a homer from each side of the plate. By 1917, the A’s, already desperate for money, became even more desperate and Mack traded him to the Red Sox to start the 1918 season.

Schang was with Boston for the 1918 World Series. He hit .444 with an OPS of 990. He remained in Boston through the 1920 season when he was part of the continued dismantling of the Red Sox. Like Babe Ruth (who was traded a year earlier), Schang was traded to the Yankees. For the next four years he served as New York’s primary catcher, playing in three World Series’, including the Yanks first championship in 1923 (He hit .318 with seven hits in the victory). He slumped badly in 1925 and was sent to the St. Louis Browns for 1926.

He stayed at St. Louis four seasons, hitting over .300 twice and setting a career high with eight home runs in 1926. He went back to Philadelphia for 1930 as a backup to Mickey Cochrane. He picked up another ring at the end of the season, but did not play in the Series. His final season was 1931 when he got into 30 games with Detroit. He hit all of  a buck eighty-four and was through at 41.

He played and managed in the minors through 1935, then Cleveland hired him as a coach. His primary job was to teach Bob Feller how to pitch instead of throw. He remained in baseball until he was 52, when he finally retired. He died in Missouri in 1965. He was 75.

For his career Schang’s triple slash line is .284/.393/.401/.794 with an OPS+ of 117 (Baseball Reference.com’s version of WAR gives him 41). He had 1506 hits, 264 for doubles, 90 triples, and 59 home runs for 2127 total bases. He had 711 RBIs and stole 121 bases. He was considered one of the better fielding catchers of his era but he led the AL in passed balls (the Boston staff of 1919 will do that to you) and in errors (1914) once each. He appeared in six World Series’, helping his team to three wins. As mentioned above he was also on the 1930 A’s but did not play in the championship games.

Wally Schang was unquestionably the best of Connie Mack’s catchers prior to Mickey Cochrane. He hit well, fielded well, and helped his team win. He occasionally pops up on lists of players overlooked for the Hall of Fame. Frankly, I don’t think he belongs, but I can see why he makes those lists.

Schang's grave (note the image of a catcher in the center)

Schang’s grave (note the image of a catcher in the center)

The Flying Foot

April 12, 2013
Amos Strunk

Amos Strunk

They called him “The Flying Foot.” Amos Strunk was fast, very fast. Connie Mack put him in center field and he helped lead the Athletics to four pennants, three World’s Championships, then moved on to Boston to help Babe Ruth win one. He was one of the finest outfielders of his day.

Amos Strunk was born in Philadelphia in 1889. As usual for the era, he played semipro ball, got to the minors, was noticed by someone with big league connections, and ended up in the Majors. For Strunk, it was 1907 for the minors, and in 1908 Connie Mack brought him to Strunk’s hometown team, the Athletics. He got into a handful of games in both 1908 and 1909, but spent most of each season in the minors. At 21 he made it to the Major Leagues to stay. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury and only played 16 games that season.

His career took off in 1911. He became the regular center fielder for the A’s, replacing Rube Oldring (who moved to left). He was fast, had a good arm, and was considered a superior outfielder (for the era and equipment available). He was noted for being able to track down balls in deep center field and catch most anything. He led the American League in fielding five times and was never in the top handful in errors (which can happen when a speedy outfielder gets his glove on a ball that other outfielders wouldn’t have gotten near).

As a hitter he was decent, but not spectacular. In years he played in at least 50 games, he hit .300 or better four times. He was mostly a singles hitter, managing 20 or more doubles only three times (his high was 30). Despite his speed, he never stole a lot of bases. His forte was going from first to third on a single and scoring from second on a single. He was used occasionally on a double steal. With Strunk on second and another runner on third, Mack would order a suicide squeeze. Strunk was fast enough to score from second on the bunt. There are a couple of stories of him doing this, but I was unable to determine how frequently he did so.

He stayed with the A’s through 1917, which means he was with the miserable 1916 team that lost 117 games. He was easily their best player. In 1918, Mack sent him to Boston. He took over as the regular center fielder (a position once held by Tris Speaker) and helped the Red Sox to their final World Series win in the 20th Century. In mid-1919 he went back to Philly, stayed into 1920, then went to Chicago where he helped try to rebuild the White Sox in the wake of the Black Sox scandal. He remained in Chicago through 1923. After one game with the ChiSox in 1924, he went back to Philadelphia, where he completed his career.

In 1925, he was player-manager for the Shamokin Shammies (don’t you love that name?) of the New York-Penn League. He retired from baseball in August of that season and went into the insurance business. He died in 1979.

In a 17 year career over 1512 games, Strunk had the following triple slash numbers: .284/,359/.374/.732 with an OPS+ of 112. He scored 696 runs and had 530 RBIs. With 1418 hits, he managed 213 doubles, 96 triples, and 15 home runs, for 1868 total bases. He had 185 stolen bases. The caught stealing numbers are incomplete for his career, but in most years in which they are available, he’s caught more than he’s successful.

If you look at the numbers above closely, you’ll see some of the problem with Strunk’s career. He played 17 years, and played in only 1523 games (an average of 89 games a year). Now some of that is garbage time as a kid and as an old player just hanging on, but Strunk had a lot of injuries over his career, mostly in the legs. He managed 130 or more games three times, peaking at 150 in 1916.

Strunk is one of those players whose stats I keep looking at and thinking, “One heck of a ballplayer.” But when I ask myself if he’s a Hall of Famer, I say no. But, like, Oldring (of a couple of posts ago) he’s the kind of player teams need to win.

This concludes my current look at the 1910-14 A’s. Over the last three years I’ve posted on most of the major players. I’ve still got a couple of outfielders, the catchers, and Mack to go, but I’ll do them later.

Gettysburg Eddie

April 10, 2013
Eddie Plank

Eddie Plank

Quick bit of trivia. Which left-handed pitcher has the most wins in the American League? Want some help? The number is 305. OK if you’re clever (and because you read this blog, most of you are) you looked at the title and the picture and guessed Eddie Plank. You win.

Plank was born to a farming family in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (scene of the famous battle) in 1875. His first taste of organized baseball came in 1893, when he was 17. It was a local team and brought him to the attention of Gettysburg Academy, a prep school for the local university, Gettysburg College. Apparently students enrolled at the Academy could participate in varsity athletics for the College, so Plank pitched for Gettysburg College but was never a student (Figure that one out, NCAA. I wonder if you can sanction a team after 100 years?). He came to the attention of Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics and in 1901 he joined the A’s without ever playing for a minor league team.

It was the first year for the American League and the Athletics. Plank was good and he would remain with Philly for most of his career. In his initial campaign he was 17-13 with an ERA over 3.– (which was big in the Deadball Era). The next four years he won 20 plus games each season. His ERA dropped, his strikeout total soared, peaking at   210 in 1905. The A’s won the AL pennant in both 1902 and 1905. In both cases Plank was the two pitcher behind Rube Waddell. In 1905, the A’s participated in the second World Series. With Waddell hurt, Plank got two games. He struck out eleven, walked four, gave up three earned runs, had an ERA of 1.59. Despite all that, he took the loss in both games as the Giants pitching staff gave up no earned runs for the entire series.

He continued to pitch well during the rest of the first decade of the 20th Century, having his first (of two) losing seasons in 1908 (14-16). By 1910 he was becoming the third member of the rotation behind Chief Bender and Jack Coombs. The A’s made the World Series in four of the next five seasons, winning three (1910, ’11, and ’13). Plank pitched well all three seasons, winning 20 games in 1911 (and again in 1912, the one year the Athletics failed to win the pennant).

His World Series record wasn’t as good as his regular season totals. In 1910 he didn’t pitch in the Series. Bender and Coombs pitched every game as the A’s beat the Cubs. In 1911 he was 1-1 with an ERA of 1.86. His game two win over Rube Marquard was a five hit masterpiece, but he was overshadowed by Frank Baker’s two-run home run that proved the difference. He wa 1-1 again in 1912 while putting up an 0,95 ERA. His victory was in game five when he two hit the Giants for a 3-1 win that clinched the Series for the A’s. In 1914, he pitched game two, lost it 1-0 on a double, stolen base, and a single in the top of the ninth. The Braves swept the A’s out of the Series in four games. For his career Plank was 2-5 with a 1.32 ERA and 32 strikeouts.

In 1914 the Federal League was formed. It offered players better salaries and something like quality play (the play could be pretty good or wretched depending on the team). Plank was interested and in 1915 Mack waived him (and both Bender and Coombs). Plank ended up with the St. Louis Terriers as their ace. He went 21-11, led the league in WHIP and ERA+, and found himself on one final pennant winner. The Feds folded after the 1915 season and Plank, now 40, found himself looking for work. The St. Louis Browns picked him up for the 1916 season (my wife’s grandfather once told me he saw Plank pitch with the Browns). He was 5-6 with a 1.79 ERA. It was only his second losing season. He was through. He retired to his farm in Gettysburg, where he farmed and led tours of the battlefield. In 1926 he suffered a stroke and died a couple of days later. In 1946 he was elected to the Hall of Fame.

For all his ability, Plank had one severe problem when he pitched. He was slow. Really slow. Really, really slow. He was infamous for taking a lot of time between pitches. As mentioned above, my wife’s grandfather told me he saw Plank pitch. He told me “you could drink a whole bottle of pop between pitches.” It seems to be part of the reason that Mack went with other pitchers in critical situations. A slow pitcher can cause the defense to become lax and Mack, as a former catcher, had to be aware of that. I looked at a handful of Plank’s games that had times listed (all of them don’t) and compared him with both Bender and Coombs. His games did seem to take longer, although not a lot, but were nothing like the length of games today.

Over his career, Plank was 326-194 for a .627 winning percentage. His ERA was 2.35 with an ERA+ of 122. He pitched 4495.2 innings, gave up 3958 hits, walked 1072, and struck out 2246 for a WHIP of 1.119. When he retired he had more wins than any other left-hander. In the 96 years since, he’s been passed by only two other lefty’s: Warren Spahn and Steve Carlton. Not bad considering all the left-handed pitchers that have played since 1917. As mentioned in the first paragraph, he still holds the record for most wins by a lefty in the American League.

When I first began this somewhat extended look at the 1910-14 Athletics, I was a little surprised I hadn’t dealt with Plank. After all, I’d done all four of the infield plus Bender and Coombs (and utility man Danny Murphy). In some ways that’s kind of fitting. Plank was never really a big star and only infrequently the team ace. Seems to be that way here also.

Plank's final resting place in Gettysburg, PA

Plank’s final resting place in Gettysburg, PA

Oldring in the Outfield

April 8, 2013
Rube Oldring

Rube Oldring

As mentioned earlier, the heart and soul of the 1910-14 Athletics was the infield, with a major nod to the pitching staff. The outfield, however, produced some quality play also. Amos Strunk was considered a superior fielder, Danny Murphy could play most anywhere, Briscoe Lord is almost totally overlooked today (but does have the best name of the lot. The best hitter was easily Rube Oldring.

Oldring was born in 1884 in New York. As with many of the players of the era, his dad was an immigrant (this time from Britain). Reuben grew up a baseball fan and a pretty good sandlot player. He played semipro ball in the New York-New Jersey area until he was noticed by the Montgomery, Alabama  minor league team. They picked him up, let him play third, short, and the outfield, and sold him to Connie Mack in 1905.  He got to Philadelphia in late September 1905 and was thus ineligible for the World Series (which Philly lost in five games). Mack sent him back to New York to play in the semipro leagues while waiting for the 1906 spring training. He played well in an exhibition game against the Highlanders (now the Yankees) and was signed for the remaining games of the 1905 season. He got into eight games, hit .300 with a home run and a triple, and was offered a contract with New York. Because of the existing contract with the A’s he couldn’t play in his home town. I have no idea how this double contract system worked. My guess is that the Yanks  and A’s didn’t play each other and Mack simply blew off the problem.

He made the 1906 Athletics as a third baseman. He could catch and throw. In fact he threw so hard that he frequently overthrew first base. In 156 chances he had 16 errors. They moved him to second and short. Same story. In 1907 they solved the problem by shifting him to center field. He remained there (with a shift to left as he aged) for most of his career (after 1906 he played 18 games in the infield). He was a solid outfielder with a strong, and still wild arm. He was quick and did reasonably well (again, for the era) in the field.

In 1915, Mack began dismantling his team. Olring remained with the A’s, hit six home runs (a career high), and retired at the end of the season. Desperate for players, Mack asked him back for 1916. He agreed. The 1916 team was an all-time clunker. Oldring played 40 games, was released and retired to his farm in New Jersey. The Yankees, also desperate for players, got him to play 43 games mediocre games for them. Then he retired again. He stayed away in 1917, but came back for one final partial season in 1918. With World War I going on, the Athletics were in need of players. Oldring got into 49 games, did some ball playing in the shipyards to entertain the ship builders, and finally hung up his uniform for good at the end of the season.

In retirement, Oldring played a little and managed a lot in the Minors. Between 1919 and 1926 he moved from team to team collecting two pennants as manager. He sold his farm in 1939 for a goodly sum and took a job with a canning company evaluating vegetables in the New Jersey area. It was a natural for an ex-farmer. He died in 1961 in New Jersey. He was 77.

He was a better hitter. After a good year in 1907, he had down years in 1908 and 1909, then at 26 found his stroke. He hit .300 for 1910, had four home runs, 57 RBIs, and scored 79 runs for the pennant winning Athletics. There was a couple of days off between the end of the regular season and the World Series, so Mack arranged an exhibition. Oldring sprained his knee chasing a fly and missed the Series (which the Athletics won).

The next four years, the heart of the A’s championship run, Oldring played center and hit between .277 and .301 each year, averaged three homers, had his career high in stolen bases with 40 (his only time at 30 or more), and managed to miss a lot of games. In 1912 he was  suspended for missing curfew (a woman was involved–and see below). In 1913 he got hurt, again in an exhibition game (Hey, Mack, will you sit Oldring out of these exhibition games? That’s twice he’s gotten hurt.). In 1914 he was injured again (this time in real games). The A’s won the World Series in 1911 and 1913. Oldring had a big homer in 1911 but was overshadowed by Frank Baker’s heroics. As a whole, Oldring didn’t do much in the World Series, managing to hit all of a buck-94 with the one home run and all of three RBIs (all on the home run). He did manage to score seven runs in the 15 games he played.

All of which brings me to Rube Oldring, lady’s man. In late 1914, Oldring announced he was getting married. This was immediately contested by a woman claiming to be his common-law wife. Oldring insisted she wasn’t, she insisted she was. The problem was the 1910 US Census showed the two living together as man and wife (and you wonder why census takers have a rough time). Ultimately the problem was solved out of court (and with a substantial loss of Oldring’s revenue from the World Series winner’s share) and he married the woman he loved (they stayed married 47 years).

Over a career lasting 1239 games Oldring had 1268 hits, 205 doubles, 76 triples, and 27 home runs for 1706 total bases. He scored 616 runs and drove in 471. His triple slash line in .270/.307/.364/.671 with an OPS+ of 64. His OPS+ peaked at 142 in 1910 (it was 145 in 1905, but only for eight games). He struck out about twice as often as he walked and managed 197 stolen bases.

Rube Oldring is one of those kinds of players that good teams must have in order to win. He was not a star but a solid, competent player that did a lot of things to help his team win. His injuries limit his usefulness some seasons, but when he’s healthy he’s good. His curfew problems and his woman trouble remind us that he, like a lot of ball players, really are just regular guys trying to make it in the world. That probably describes most of us.

Oldring's final home

Oldring’s final home

The First National League Power Hitter

March 26, 2013
George Hall

George Hall

One of the great things about the start-up of a new league is that everyone is a rookie (sorta). Another great thing about it is that no matter who it is or what it is, the guy who finishes first in a category is automatically the all-time league record holder. The next season he may be relegated to the scrap heap, but for one year he is the greatest who ever was. Such is the story of George Hall.

George W. Hall was born in March 1849 in Great Britain and came to the United States with his parents. He was good at baseball and by 1871 was considered good enough to be picked up by the Washington Olympics of the newly formed National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. He was a left-handed outfielder who also hit left-handed. He was a better than average fielder for the era, leading the Association in putouts and double plays while finishing in the upper half of the league in range and fielding percentage. But he was also a fine hitter. In 32 games he had 40 hits, three of them doubles, three triples, and two homers. He scored 31 runs and knocked in 17. His OPS+ was 114, the lowest he would have for his entire career.

The Olympics finished 15-15 (with two ties) and folded nine games into the next season. Hall, meanwhile moved to Baltimore where he played for the Canaries in both 1872 and 1873. Baltimore finished second and third those two seasons, with Hall being one of their best players. In 1874 he moved to champion Boston where he won his only pennant. The next year he was with Philadelphia. Again he did well enough with the Athletics to be considered an excellent player, but he was not in the absolute upper tier of Association players.

After the 1875 season the Association folded. At that point Hall was a career .311 hitter with an OPB of .321, a slugging percentage of .431, and OPS of .753 and an OPS+ of 133. He had 353 hits in 244 games with 273 runs scored and 181 RBIs. He amassed 489 total bases, including 46 doubles, 33 triples, and 8 home runs.

In 1876 the National League was formed. Hall and the Athletics joined. It was here that he made his mark. He hit .366, slugged .545, had an OPS of .929, and OPS+ of 204. He also set the NL record with five home runs, none after July. No one else on the team had more than one.  Charley Jones (the subject of the post just below) was second with four homers. A number of players tied for third with two home runs (including Hall of Fame players Cap Anson and Jim O’Rourke). It was the only offensive category in which he led the league.

Philadelphia had failed to finish the last Western road swing of the season and was tossed from the league. Without a team, Hall was picked up by Louisville for the 1877 season. He hit well enough (.323), but didn’t come close to his five homer total. There is some dispute about whether he had one or zero home runs in 1877, but he didn’t repeat as home run champion (Baseball Reference lists no home runs).

But Hall had a bigger problem than his lack of power. Late in the 1877 season the Grays were in contention for the pennant, then collapsed. Boston ultimately won the championship with Louisville finishing second.  An investigation determined that at least four Grays players, including Hall, were paid $25 a game to throw games down the stretch. Hall admitted to throwing exhibition games, but not league games. Nonetheless other information implicated him in throwing league games. He was thrown off the team and later banned from Major League baseball for life.

It’s very hard to track Hall after 1877. He asked Harry Wright for a chance and was turned down, but beyond that he seems to have stayed away from baseball.  He died in New Jersey in 1923 and is buried in Brooklyn.

How good was Hall? As usual with mid-19th Century players, it’s hard to determine. He plays seven seasons but only appears in 365 games. That’s just over two modern seasons. It’s also a much different game; a game where a power hitter can win a home run title with five home runs. He is 28 when he is banned. In current baseball that’s just entering a player’s prime. In the 1870s he was already getting old. He seems to have been a good enough player, but not a true star. Because he threw games in 1877, we’ll never know how much better he might have been with a full career.

Hall's grave in Brooklyn

Hall’s grave in Brooklyn

A Bad Century: The Nadir (“Friggin’ Sun”)

May 9, 2012

Woody English (from the Engish website)

Down one game in the 1929 World Series, the Chicago Cubs had game two at home. They managed to lose it 9-3 to go down 0-2, but a change of scenery to Philadelphia seemed to make a difference. They won game three 3-1 behind Guy Bush. So now down two games to one, Chicago was ready to tie up the World Series and make it at best of three championship. The next game was to become one of the most famous games in World Series history, primarily for one astonishing inning. It also represents, to me, the absolute nadir of the Cubs Bad Century.

Game four was scheduled for 12 October in Shibe Park Philadelphia. The Cubs jumped on A’s starter Jack Quinn. Getting six runs off Quinn in five innings and two more off a pair of relievers, the Cubs looked ready to tie up the Series when the Athletics came to bat in the bottom of the seventh down 8-0. Charlie Root (of Babe Ruth’s “called shot” infamy) needed nine outs to lock up the Series. He got one.

Al Simmons led off the bottom of the seventh with a home run (count ’em up with me, 8-1), then consecutive singles by Jimmie Foxx, Bing Miller, Jimmy Dykes, and Joe Boley brought in two more (8-3). Pinch hitting for the pitcher, George Burns (not the comedian) popped out for Root’s only out. Max Bishop singled to bring in another run (8-4). That sent Root to the showers and brought in lefty Art Nehf who sported an impressive ERA of 5.58. Mule Haas greeted him with a three run inside the park home run (8-7). Center Field Wilson managed to lose the ball in the sun, letting it get by him all the way to the fence, clearing the bases. That was bad enough but Wilson wasn’t through proving he was in the lineup for his bat not his glove. Mickey Cochrane then walked, bringing out the hook for Nehf and bringing in Sheriff Blake. Simmons and Foxx both singled bringing in Cochrane (8-8). Out went Blake, in came Malone, the ace, who managed to plunk Miller. That brought up Dykes who doubled over Wilson’s head (another ball that Wilson lost in the sun) to score both Simmons and Foxx (8-10). Then Boley and Burns, designated rally killers supreme, both struck out to end the inning. The A’s scored 10 runs on 10 hits, a walk, an error, and two misplayed balls. Burns managed to make two outs in a single inning. So far as I can determine, only Stan Musial in 1942 managed to equal that feat. When the inning was over, Wilson, back in the dugout, is supposed to have muttered, “friggin’ sun.” (OK, he didn’t say “friggin'”, but this is a family friendly site.)

Lefty Grove entered the game, no hit the Cubs for two innings and picked up the save. The Series now stood 3-1 in favor of Philadelphia. Teams had come back from that kind of deficit before (not often, it’s true, but it had been done), so Chicago still had a chance. There was no game on Sunday, so Monday 14 October, the subject of my next post, would see game five.

1911: Danny Murphy

June 7, 2011

Danny Murphy in 1913

Between 1910 and 1914 the Philadelphia Athletics won four American League pennants and three World Series titles. Today they’re primarily known for their manager, Connie Mack, their infield (McInnis, Collins, Barry, Baker) and their pitching (Plank, Bender, Coombs). But they also had a pretty decent outfield during the period. One of their better players in the pasture was Danny Murphy.

His name was Daniel Francis Murphy and he was born in Philly in 1876. He moved to New England while still young, started playing ball and was signed by the Giants in 1900. A second baseman by trade, he got into 27 games in 1900 and 1901, then went back to the minors. In July 1902, Mack bought him for $600 and he settled in as the A’s  second baseman. Murphy is a minor cog in the great Nap LaJoie scandal of the era. LaJoie, the Phillies second baseman, signed with the A’s when the AL was formed. The Phillies sued, LaJoie ended up in Cleveland, and Murphy became his replacement.

Murphy was good. He wasn’t LaJoie, but almost no one who’s ever played the game was LaJoie. The new second baseman hit reasonably well, did a good enough job at second,  including a  six for six debut and hitting for the cycle, and smacking two hits on his wedding day (which leads to the question didn’t he have something better to do on his wedding day?).  He became a fixture in Philly between 1902 and 1913. In 1902, the A’s won the second  ever AL pennant with Murphy hitting .313 in 76 games while scoring 46 runs. The A’s won again in 1905, this time having to face Murphy’s old team the Giants in the second World Series. They lost in five games, Murphy hitting a buck-18 with a double and no runs scored or RBIs.

Murphy remained the primary second baseman through 1907 when the A’s added Eddie Collins to their roster. Murphy was good enough, but Collins  is  a top five all-time second baseman. Mack’s decision was to shift Murphy to right field. It worked. Collins went on to a  Hall of Fame career and  Murphy continued to contribute. In 1912 he was appointed team captain. He led the AL in fielding once (.977, which isn’t all that bad in 1909) and continued to hit well. In 1910 and 1911 he hit over .300 and slugged over .425 both seasons. In World Series play he hit .400 in 1910 and .304 in 1911. Combined for the two Series’ he drove in 12 runs, scored 10, had 15 hits, eight for extra bases (including one home run). His OPS in 1910 was 1.129 and .739 in 1911.

By 1912 he was still good. He was also 36. In June he broke his kneecap sliding and lost the rest of the  season. In 1913 he only got into 40 games. He hit well when he played (.322/.365/.441) but he simply couldn’t play that much. The A’s went back to the World Series, winning again, but Murphy sat on the bench the entire Series. He was through in Philadelphia. In 1914 and 1915 he tried his hand with the fledgling Federal League. He hit .304 for Brooklyn in 1914, .167 in 1915, and did some scouting work. After 1915 he stopped playing in the Majors. He coached some in the Minors, got back to the A’s as a coach through the 1924 season. He coached one more year, then retired to run a hardware store and later work in a hospital. He died in 1955. In 1948 Mack named him to the All-Time A’s team as the right fielder.

For his career, Murphy hit .289, slugged .404, had an OBP of .336, and an OPS of .742 (OPS+ of 124). He hit 44 home runs, scored 705 runs and knocked in 702 RBIs in 1563 hits. He had 2188 total bases, 289 doubles, 102 triples, and walked 335 times. For his postseason career he hit .305 with an OPS of .791. He had 18 hits, eight for extra bases (7 doubles and a home run).

Murphy is hardly a great player, but he’s certainly a good one. He is, to me, emblematic of a type of player that constantly gets overlooked in baseball discussions. He’s not a star, not the best player on his team, but he is a major cog in a winning team. He’s the kind of player good teams have a lot of when they win. Take a look at winning rosters and you’ll find a lot of Danny Murphy’s, which is a pretty good legacy for him.