Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh Pirates’

A Dozen Things You Should Know About George Gibson

May 9, 2017

George Gibson (from his Wikipedia page) about 1910. Note the era catching gear

Here are some fast facts about one of the primary catcher’s on my fantasy team.

1.  George Gibson was born in London, Ontario, Canada in 1880. He worked with his father as a bricklayer and played catcher for a church league team in London.

2. He began playing professionally in 1903 and went to Buffalo where his manager was George Stallings (manager of the World Series winning 1914 Braves). He didn’t particularly like Stallings.

3. From Buffalo he went to Montreal where he played until the Pittsburgh Pirates signed him in 1905. He got into 46 games, hit a buck-78, but produced only nine errors.

4. Gibson was big (5’11”) for the era and adroit at blocking the plate. He also was considered strong armed (a trait attributed to his size) and able to throw out more runners than a regular catcher (most years his caught stealing percentage is slightly above the league norm).

5. In 1909 he set a record by catching 134 consecutive games and another record by catching in 150 total games (of 154). The first record lasted into the 1920s and the other to 1940.

6. The 1909 season saw his only postseason play. He played in all seven World Series games (a victory against Detroit), hit .240, had two doubles, scored two runs, had two RBIs, had six total hits.

7. He remained with Pittsburgh through 1916, was waived and claimed by the Giants. He refused to report.

8. Giants manager John McGraw made him a player-coach and he reported in 1917. New York won the National League pennant in 1917, but Gibson did not play in the World Series.

9. His last year was 1918. He played four games (and hit .500) and retired with a triple slash line of .236/.295/.312/.607 (OPS+ of 81), 15 home runs, 346 RBIs, 295 runs scored, and 15.1 WAR (BBRef version).

10. He coached in the International League, managed the Pirates twice and the Cubs once (with a .546 combined winner percentage), coached for both the Senators and the Cubs, and did scouting work for the Cubs.

11. In 1956 he was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. In 1987 he joined the Canadian Baseball Fall of Fame.

12. George Gibson died in his hometown of London, Ontario in January 1967.

 

The Doctor’s Son

August 5, 2016
Vin Cambell

Vin Cambell

I’ve joined a fantasy league (don’t laugh too loud). It’s a new experience for me. I’ve never done anything like it before and I have no idea how good I’ll be or if the other “owners” will want to shoot me by the time we’re through. It’s a league that begins with the 1910 season and goes on for a while. Now I know a little about Deadball baseball, but I’m surprised at how much I’ve had to learn to be competitive in this kind of thing. I had to draft a team and that meant I had to study players I’d never heard of in all the years I’ve looked at baseball. One guy I drafted was particularly interesting and I thought I’d let you know a little about Vin Campbell.

Arthur Vincent “Vin” Campbell, Jr. was born in St. Louis in January 1888 to a prominent eye doctor and his wife. Education was important to the family so Vin went to an “academy” (we’d probably call them a “prep school” today) in St. Louis then took off for Vanderbilt in Nashville. He played both football and baseball, becoming the primary catcher for the baseball team. He was nicknamed “The Demon” for his ferocious style of play at football and the name slid over to baseball. After one season at Vanderbilt, he signed with the Cubs in 1908.

He made the big league team out of spring training, but didn’t play much (one at bat) and was sent down to Decatur for “seasoning.” Then he was sold to Atlanta. That got the attention of the National Commission (the ruling body of Major League Baseball). Under the rules of the day Chicago couldn’t be party to a sale between minor league clubs (remember the “farm” system of today didn’t exist in 1908) so it led to the Cubs paying a fine and losing Campbell as a free agent.

He signed with the Northwestern League in 1909, stole 72 bases, and ended up sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates. After a winter selling shoes (he was a traveling salesman not assigned to one store) he made the Pirates teams as a the fourth outfielder in 1910. Injuries put him into the lineup and by September he was the regular right fielder. He ended the season hitting .326, good for second in the National League, and fourth in the league in OPS.

In 1911 he notified the Pirates he was not planning to play baseball that season, having gotten a job with a brokerage firm in St. Louis (it paid better). That lasted until late in the season, when he applied for reinstatement, which was granted. There are a couple of versions of what was going on, but my favorite is that he’d found a girl in Pittsburgh and she didn’t want to move to St. Louis. Apparently he got the girl, but Max Carey got the outfield job and Campbell spent most of the season as a pinch hitter and fourth outfielder.

In 1912 he held out for more money. Pittsburgh cut him and Boston (the Braves, not the Red Sox) picked him up. He hit .296, led the NL in at bats, had 185 hits, scored 102 runs, and had what turned out to be his career year.

In 1913 he decided to retire. He took a job as President of the Keystone Motor Supply Company in Pittsburgh and announced he wasn’t going to play baseball unless he could join the Giants (pennant winners in 1912). That came to nothing, so he stayed away from the game until the arrival of the new Federal League in 1914.

The Feds were considered by the established leagues as an “Outlaw League.” They signed a lot of over-the-hill types, a bunch of “wannabes” and guys like Campbell who’d had a cup of coffee and a few good years. He ended up in Indianapolis where he helped lead the Hoosiers to the first Federal League title. He played again in 1915. Indianapolis had done poorly in attendance in 1914 and the franchise, along with Campbell, was transferred to Newark. He had one last good year. He was 27.

The Feds folded after the 1915 season and Campbell was offered contracts, all of which contained major pay cuts. He refused and retired, this time for good. He did, however, have one last dealing with baseball. He sued Newark for $8200, the size of his contract which he’d signed in September before the Feds folded. A jury gave him just under $6000.

He went into the tire business, was successful, and moved to New York. There he began managing a chain of tire stores, continuing to sell tires for the rest of his working life. He retired and died in 1969, a successful businessman, but a neglected ball player.

For his career Vin Campbell played in 546 games (both NL and Federal League) hitting .310 with 642 hits, 326 runs, 11 RBIs, 92 stolen bases, 85 doubles, 15 homes runs, a slugging percentage of .408, an OBP of .357, and an OPS of .765 (OPS+ of 114). All that got him 4.5 WAR. In 1912 he led the NL in at bats, outs made, and errors committed by an outfielder.

Campbell is part of my fantasy team. I’d never heard of him, but was fascinated by the shortness of a career that seemed to always verge on the very good. It seems he had outside interests, the skill to pursue them, and the finances (both his family and his in-laws had decent money for the era) to live a life without baseball. That set of factors alone makes him unusual for Deadball players and makes him interesting.

“Autumn Glory”: A Review

June 20, 2015
Cover of "Autumn Glory"

Cover of “Autumn Glory”

Haven’t reviewed a book in a while, so it’s time to do so again. This time I want to look at Louis P. Masur’s Autumn Glory: Baseball’s First World Series.

As the title implies, this is a look at the 1903 World Series between the established National League’s Pittsburgh Pirates and the newly formed American League’s Boston team. Masur goes through each of the eight games (it was a best five of nine series) providing narrative of the game itself and giving us a copy of the box score. The chapters on the games are straightforward with little analysis and more narrative.

In between the chapters on each game are other chapters chronicling baseball in the era. There’s a chapter on the founding of the American League and the subsequent war between the two leagues, a chapter on the way the league’s gained peace, and chapters on each team’s (Pittsburgh and Boston) 1903 season. Again, the chapters are more narrative than analytic, but read well. There are some pictures including shots of ballparks, players, owners, executives, and fans.

All in all it’s a good book for what it does. Don’t expect anything like a deep academic tome. This is a book for fans, not historians. It’s generally well written and explores the 1903 World Series, not American society in the era. I point this out because Masur is a history professor who apparently loves baseball and can leave his academic world to write for the general reader.

The book was published in 2003, in time for a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first World Series and is available online from several places. Enjoy.

28 June 1914: the NL

June 27, 2014
Heinie Groh, complete with "bottle bat"

Heinie Groh, complete with “bottle bat”

And now concluding a look at where all three Major Leagues stood on 28 June 1914 (100 years ago tomorrow), the day that the assassination in Sarajevo set off the spark that led to World War I, here’s a view of what was going on in the National League.

The National League had the most games on Sunday, 28 June 1914. Both of the other leagues had three games, a double-header and a single game. The NL went with twin double-headers. In one set Pittsburgh played two in Cincinnati and in the other the Cubs took on the Cardinals in St. Louis.

the Reds managed to sweep both games from the Pirates. In game one they rallied late to take a 7-6 victory. Pittsburgh scored a run in each of the first three innings, got three more in the seventh, and led 6-2 going into the bottom of the ninth. Joe Conzelman, in relief of Babe Adams started the ninth, couldn’t get anyone out, and left the job to George McQuillan. McQuillan got two outs, but never got the last, as Cincinnati plated five runs, all earned, to win the game. Heinie Groh of “bottle bat” fame had two hits, scored a run, and drove in one.  But the big hero was center fielder Howard Lohr who had three hits (all singles) scored two runs, and drove in three.

In game two the teams went the other way. In the second, Groh singled, then came home on another single by left fielder Harry LaRoss. It was the only run that starter Marty O’Toole gave up, but Cincinnati starter Pete Schneider picked up his first win of the season by throwing a complete game shutout. For the day Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner went one for seven with an RBI, while fellow Hall of Fame player Max Carey went one for seven and scored a run.

In St. Louis, the two teams split the double-header. In game one the Cards routed Chicago 6-0. The hitting stars were Lee Magee and Dots Miller. Magee scored two runs and had an RBI while going two for two with two walks. Miller went two for four, but drove in three runs. Pitcher Bill Doak threw a complete game shutout.

In the nightcap, with the scored tied 2-2, the Cubs erupts for six runs in the fifth. Tommy Leach two runs, Vic Saier had three RBIs, and Hall of Fame catcher Roger Bresnahan had both a run and an RBI from the eight hole. With the score 8-2, St. Louis rallied for two runs in the eighth before Cubs ace Hippo Vaughn entered the game. He gave up one more run, but then shut down St. Louis to record his only save of the season and see Chicago pull off an 8-5 victory.  Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem had the plate for both games.

At the end of the day, Cincy stood in second place, five games behind the Giants, while the Pirates held down fifth place (and were the highest placed team with a losing record). The Cubs were in third and the Cards in fourth. By the end of the season the Cards had risen to third, the Cubs were fourth, the Reds had slipped to last, nine games below seventh place Pittsburgh.

One major trade occurred that day. The last place Braves sent Hub Perdue, a 2-5 pitcher to St. Louis. They got back first baseman Possum Whitted and utility outfielder Ted Cather. Whitted moved into the clean up spot for the Braves and Cather became part of an outfield platoon. Both men were instrumental in the “Miracle Braves” run to the NL pennant and the World Series triumph in 1914. The run began 6 July when Boston ran off seven of eight wins to start the climb to the top.

 

 

 

 

Check this out

May 8, 2010

Hey, team, go to Bill Miller’s The On Deck Circle blog (it’s on my blogroll on the right side of the page). There’s a wonderful video about the Pirates. Check it out. It’s worth the time and great for a giggle.

1908: Wagner

February 4, 2010

Honus Wagner

The Pittsburgh Pirates finished  one game back in the National League pennant race of 1908, tied with the Giants. They hung close all season before dropping a key game to Chicago to put them out of the hunt in October. Losing wasn’t Honus Wagner’s fault, however.

Wagner’s 1908 is one of the finest seasons any major league ballplayer ever produced. The numbers don’t look all that stunning at first blush, but when you consider the context, the times, the pressure of a pennant race, they stand up against almost anything. I read a comment by historican/statistician Bill James that argued Wagner’s 1908 was legitimately one of the five best seasons ever and could be considered number one. In the 2001 version of his Historical Baseball Abstract he gives it a 59 win shares. Except for a couple of 19th Century pitchers who threw every game, that’s the highest total he gives any season, including the 1920’s for Babe Ruth.  

What’s all the fuss about? Here’s Wagner’s 1908 in a nutshell. He led the league in hits with 201, doubles with 39, triples with 19, RBIs with 109, stolen bases with 53, a .354 batting average, a slugging percentage of .542, an on base percentage of .415, an OPS of .957, and 308 total bases. For good measure he finished second in runs with 100 (to Fred Tenney, Giants first baseman who had 101 and 40 more plate appearances), second in home runs with 10 (to Brooklyn first baseman Tim Jordan with 12), and had 54 walks, good for a lousy tenth in the league (Roger Bresnahan had 83). Want to put that in Major Lague perspective. Ty Cobb betters him in  triples (20 to 19) but Wagner leads both leagues in all the other categories. His second in home runs and runs leaves him still second in home runs and he drops to fourth among all major leaguers in runs (Matty McIntyre and Cobb both have more than Tenney). Top all that off with a great glove at shortstop (in context of rough fields, gloves only slightly larger than a hand) and it’s quite a year.

In context it’s even better. The league average for runs per team was 3.32 in 1908 and the league-wide batting average stood at .239. The latter was the lowest for either league (and throw in the Federal League for good measure) in the entire 20th Century until the American League managed to lower it in consecutive years: 1967 and 1968. Pitchers dominated and hitters suffered. With all that going againt him, Honus Wagner stepped up to the plate in 151 of 154 games and simply destroyed the baseball.

The Pirates didn’t win in 1908. They did in 1909 and won the World Series. I supposed Wagner appreciated the outcome of 1909 much more than he appreciated his own efforts in 1908. We get to celebrate both.

The Dutchman vs the Peach

January 19, 2010

By general consensus the two great position players of the Deadball Era are Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner. Two people more unalike is tough to imagine. Wagner was from the Pennsylvania coal fields. He was quiet, dignified, admired by his teammates, apparently relatively free from racism (when told John Henry Lloyd was being called “The Black Wagner”, Honus was supposed to have said he was honored to be compared with Lloyd). Cobb, on the other hand, was from Georgia. Quiet would never describe him. He was brash, angry, violent, tolerated rather than liked by his teammates, and violently racist. The did have one thing in common, they were great ballplayers. For fans who wanted to see both in action against each other, there was a problem. Wagner (“The Flying Dutchman”) played in the National League while Cobb (“The Georgia Peach”) played in the American League. The only way they could be on the same field in an meaningful game would be in the World Series. In 1909, that finally happened.

Cobb’s Detroit Tigers swept to the American League pennant by 3.5 games over the A’s. Led by Cobb, who hit league leading numbers of 377 in batting, 107 RBI’s, and 9 homers to become the second American Leaguer to win the Triple Crown (Nap LaJoie in 1901), the Tigers had future Hall of Famers Sam Crawford and manager Hughie Jennings on the team. The leading pitchers were George Mullin (29 wins) and Ed Willett (22 wins).

The Pittsburgh Pirates, who knocked off the Cubs by 6.5 games, had Wagner who led the league in hitting at 339 and in RBI’s at 100, along with a league leading 39 doubles. They also had future Hall of Famer and manager-left fielder Fred Clarke and got good seasons from Bill Abstein (1st base), Dots Miller (2nd base), and Tommy Leach (center field). The pitching was led by Howie Camnitz (25 wins) and future Hall of Famer Vic Willis (22 wins).

It was a good series, the first to go the full compliment of 7 games (The 1903 Series was a best of nine. There was a game 7, but it was the penultimate game.) The Pirates won all the odd numbered games, the Tigers the even numbered games (what are the chances of that?). Neither Wagner nor Cobb were the stars. Cobb hit only 231, stole only 2 bases, but led the team with 5 RBIs. Wagner did better hitting 333 with 6 stolen bases and 2 RBIs. But the big stars were Clarke who hit both Pirates home runs and tallied 7 RBIs with only a 211 batting average, Leach who hit 360, and an obscure pitcher named Babe Adams who won 3 of the Pirates 4 games (13 game winner Nick Maddox won the other game). Adams put up a 1.33 ERA and struck out 11 in 27 innings. He pitched three complete game victories, including game 7.

When the Series ended, Pittsburgh had its first championship, the Tigers had lost 3 World Series’ in a row. Neither Cobb nor Wagner would ever make it back to a Series as a player. Both men would be in the initial Hall of Fame class.

The Chronicle-Telegraph Games

December 23, 2009

Chronicle-Telegraph Cup

In 1900 the National League contracted from 12 teams to eight. Baltimore, Louisville, Cleveland, Washington all ceased to exist. The players were shipped to other teams. In the case of Baltimore and Lousville the locations were already decided. Both teams were part of a syndicate that ran them and another team. Baltimore was owned by the Brooklyn team and Louisville by the team in Pittsburgh. This syndicate baseball was both common and legal in the era. The Brooklyn team had been most successful in using it because they had looted the Baltimore team earlier and won the National League pennant in 1899.

They repeated in 1900 winning the championship by 4.5 games over Pittsburgh. The Pirates owner, Barney Dreyfuss, argued that his team was actually better and only lost because he hadn’t been able to join the Louisville players with the Pittsburgh players earlier in the season.  He argued that the Pirates and the Superbas (they weren’t yet called the Dodgers) ought to meet in a five game series to settle the issue. Superbas manager Ned Hanlon accepted the challenge. The Pittsburgh Chronicle-Telegraph, a major newspaper, agreed to sponsor the series and offered a cup as a trophy to the victor. (What is it with Pittsburgh and gaudy trophy cups?)

Beginning 15 October the Chronicle-Telegraph series was held. All games were played in Pittsbugh. The Superbas won game one 5-2 behind Joe McGinnity’s five hitter.  Frank Kitson picked up the win for Brooklyn 4-2 in game two. In the game Pittsburgh committed 6 errors. The Pirates crushed Harry Howell and the Superbas 10-0 in game 3 behind future World Series star Deacon Phillippe. With McGinnity back on the mound for game 4, Brooklyn rode to victory 6-1 and finished the series and claim the cup.

The Superbas roster included the following future Hall of Famers: pitcher Joe McGinnity, infielder Hughie Jennings, outfielders Willie Keeler and Joe Kelley, and manager Ned Hanlon.

The Pirates roster included the following future Hall of Famers: pitchers Jack Chesbro and Rube Waddell (losing pitcher in game 1 of the series), and outfielders Honus Wagner (not yet the shortstop) and Fred Clarke who doubled as manager.

The Chronicle-Telegraph cup is currently on display at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.