Posts Tagged ‘Possum Whitted’

1915: The New Kids in the Natonal League

April 8, 2015
Erskine Mayer

Erskine Mayer

Philadelphia joined the National League in 1876 and was tossed out before the end of the season. A team was formed in the rival American Association and won the 1883 Association pennant. The National League returned to Philly in 1883 when Worcester folded and the rights to a new franchise were given to Philadelphia. The new team was called the Quakers and managed to finish last. It was fairly typical for the NL team in Philly. Between 1883 and 1914 they’d won absolutely nothing. That changed finally in 1915, one hundred years ago.

The 1914 Phils finished sixth in an eight team league. It cost manager Red Dooin his job. Pat Moran, who’d played one game for Philadelphia in 1914 took over the job. He was 38 and a catcher. He’d not had much of a career (.235, a 78 OPS+, and a total WAR of 6.8), but he turned into a successful manager (He led the 1919 Reds to a World Series title). He ran a team that was greatly changed in 1915.

The 1915 Phillie infield (first to third) consisted of Fred Luderus, Bert Neihoff, Dave Bancroft, and Bob Byrne. Luderus was a holdover from the previous year. He’d hit only .248 but was second on the team with 12 home runs. Byrne was also a holdover, although he’d been the regular second baseman in 1914. Bancroft and Neihoff were both new. Bancroft was 24 and a rookie, just beginning what became a Hall of Fame career, while Neihoff came to the Phils from Cincinnati.

The outfield contained two holdovers and one new guy. The new guy was Possum Whitted. He’d been the cleanup hitter for the World Champion Boston Braves in 1914, but came to Philly in the off-season. His 43 RBIs were fourth on the team. One of the holdovers was Beals Becker. He hit only .246 in 1915, but was second on the team in home runs. The other was Gavvy Cravath. Cravath was the Philadelphia power hitter. He led the team in homers, RBIs, and runs, and was second in hits. His 24 home runs, 115 RBIs, 89 runs, and 170 OPS+ all led the NL.

Bill Killefer (played by James Millican in the flick “The Winning Team”) did the bulk of the catching. He wasn’t much of  a hitter, but was a good catcher. His backup, Ed Burns hit about the same but without the receiving skills. Dode Paskert and Milt Stock joined Burns as the only men on the bench who played more than 40 games. Stock led the bench with a .260 average and Paskert had three home runs.

Five men did most of the pitching. The ace was Grover Cleveland Alexander (who didn’t look much like Ronald Reagan in “The Winning Team”). Alexander went 31-10, had 12 shutouts, and struck out 241 while putting up a 1.22 ERA (ERA+ of 225) and a BBREF WAR of 10.9. Erskine Mayer was the two pitcher. He was 21-15 with a 2.36 ERA. Lefty Eppa Rixey had a losing record, but still recorded an ERA+ of 115. Al Demaree and George Chalmers rounded out the starters. Southpaw Stan Baumgartner and righty Ben Tincup did most of the bullpen work, but didn’t manage to post a single save (Alexander led the team with three).

The Phils won the pennant by seven games over reigning champ Boston. they were second in the league in runs, but last in hits (That’s a really odd combination, isn’t it?). They led the NL in home runs, were third in both doubles and RBIs. The staff led the league in ERA, hits, and runs, and was third in strikeouts. Individually, Cravath led the NL in offensive WAR, slugging, OBP, runs, walks, total bases, RBIs, and home runs. A caveat should be thrown in here. Almost all of Cravath’s 24 homers came at home in the small Philly ball park, Luderus finished second in hitting, second in doubles, and fifth in OBP and 10th in hits. Bancroft was third in runs scored and second in walks. Among pitchers Alexander led the NL in ERA, wins, WAR, strikeouts, shutouts, complete games, innings pitched, and just about anything else you can think of for pitchers. Mayer’s 21 wins were third in the league and he was ninth in strikeouts. He did, however, also lead the league in gopher balls.

The Phillies were one hit wonders. In 1916 they dropped back to second, stayed there in 1917, then went south quickly. They would return to their normal middle of the pack to second division status for the rest of the first half of the 20th Century. Their next pennant would come in 1950, the same year Alexander died.

1914: Winning in Boston, part 2

October 23, 2014
1914 World Series program from Boston

1914 World Series program from Boston

With the Braves up three games to none, Philadelphia did something that still surprises me, it went with its fourth pitcher for the fourth game (a lot of fours and fourths there, right?). I’m a bit surprised that Connie Mack didn’t go back to Chief Bender to right the ship rather than put the pressure on 23-year-old Bob Shawkey. I realize that Bender hadn’t done particularly well in game one, but, unlike Shawkey, he had World Series experience. By contrast, Braves manager George Stallings (pictured above) went back to game one starter Dick Rudolph.

Game 4

For three innings, picking Shawkey worked. He gave up one walk and nothing else. Rudolph wasn’t quite as good, giving up three hits, but neither team scored. In the bottom of the fourth Johnny Evers walked and went to third on a Possum Whitted single. He scored on a Butch Schmidt ground out to short. The A’s even the score in the top of the fifth on a Jack Barry single and a double by Shawkey.

The decisive inning was the bottom of the fifth. With two outs, Rudolph singled. Herbie Moran followed with a double sending Rudolph to third. With runners on second and third and two outs Hall of Fame second baseman Johnny Evers singled to bring home both runs and put the Braves up 3-1. Rudolph set Philadelphia down in order in the sixth. He was in trouble in the seventh when he walked Jimmy Walsh, then wild pitched him to second. Then Barry struck out and Boston catcher Hank Gowdy threw down to second baseman Evers to pick off Walsh for the second out. Wally Schang struck out to end the inning. It was the last crisis. The Athletics went down in order in the eighth then a strikeout and consecutive ground outs in the top of the ninth finished the game and the Series.

Boston’s victory was, and still is, one of the greatest World Series upsets ever. There are two obvious questions to answer. What did Boston do right? What went wrong for the A’s?

First, Boston’s pitching was excellent. Both Rudolph and Bill James were 2-0. James’ ERA was 0.00 and Rudolph had all of 0.50 for his ERA (team ERA of 1.15). As a team they gave up only 22 hits and 13 walks in 39 innings (WHIP of 0.897), while striking out 28. Additionally James had one complete game shutout (the other win came in relief).

Second, the Braves hit well up and down their lineup. Their team batting average was .244. Every player appearing in three or more games (nine) had at least one hit. Every one of them scored at least one run, and seven of them had at least one RBI. Johnny Evers led the team with seven hits and Hank Gowdy had six. Gowdy and Rabbit Maranville each had three RBIs to lead the team. Gowdy hit .545 with the series only home run. He also had one of two series triples (Whitted had the other). That, along with five walks, gave him on OBP of .688, a slugging percentage of 1.273, and an OPS of 1.960. There was no series MVP in 1914. Had there been one, Gowdy most likely would have won it.

By contrast, the Athletics pitching staff was awful. Their collective ERA was 3.41 with Chief Bender clocking in at 10.13. Eddie Plank gave up one run in a complete game, but lost it to James’ shutout. As a team, they gave up 33 hits and 15 walks (WHIP of 1.297) over 37 innings. And they struck out only 18 (all of three more than they had walks).

Other than Home Run Baker, who only hit .250, the A’s hit poorly. Baker had two RBIs and four hits to lead the team and tied for the team lead with two doubles (of nine). Stuffy McInnis and Eddie Murphy were the only players to score more than a single run (each had two). The team average was .172 with an OBP of .248 and a slugging percentage of .242 for an OPS of .490 (six Braves players had OPS numbers greater than Philadelphia’s combined OPS). The team had no triples or home runs and stole only two bases (versus nine for Boston).

It was a complete victory for Boston. And, as with many World Series it marked the end for both teams. The Braves slipped back into second next year and went south from there. For the A’s it was the end of a five-year run. By 1916 they had the worst record in baseball (a lot of the stars were gone). For Boston it would be their last pennant until 1948 and their last championship ever. The next time the Braves won was 1957 and by then they were in Milwaukee.

As an interesting bit of trivia, in 1914 the teams apparently didn’t yet get rings. It seems someone made up one for Johnny Evers (maybe Evers himself). Here’s a picture of it.

Johnny Evers 1914 ring

Johnny Evers 1914 ring

1914: Winning in Philadelphia

October 14, 2014
Shibe Park

Shibe Park

The first two games of the 1914 World Series were played in Philadelphia, Shibe Part on 9 and 10 October. The home team Athletics were overwhelming favorites to defeat the National League’s Boston Braves. Games one and two would set the tone for the entire Series.

Game 1

The first game was the only blowout of the Series. Boston’s Dick Rudolph pitched a complete game giving up five hits, walking one, and striking out eight. The Braves scored on a  second inning walk to outfielder “Possum” Whitted, a one out double by Hank Gowdy plated Whitted. Hall of Fame shortstop Rabbit Maranville then singled bringing home Gowdy. In the bottom of the second, Stuffy McInnis walked, went to second on an Amos Strunk single, then scored when Braves right fielder Herbie Moran threw the ball away. Strunk got to third, but didn’t score. From there on out it was the Boston bats and Rudolph that dominated the game. In the top of the fifth, Gowdy tripled and scored on a Maranville single. Then Boston tacked on three more in the sixth. Johnny Evers singled, Joe Connolly walked, then Whitted tripled sending both runs home. Butch Schmidt singled home Whitted and that brought Connie Mack to the mound to lift starter Chief Bender. Back to back singles and a Schmidt steal of home in the eighth finished off the scoring. Boston won 7-1 and shelled Mack’s ace, Bender. Every Braves starter except Moran had a run, hit, or RBI, including Rudolph. Gowdy had three hits, scored two runs, and furnished an RBI to take game hitting hero honors.

Game 2

The second game in Philly was a pitching masterpiece by both teams. Boston star Bill James squared off against Hall of Fame lefty Eddie Plank. For eight innings they matched zeroes. Through eight, Plank had given up five hits, walked three, and struck out five. James was even better. Through eight he gave up two hits, one walk, and struck out seven. With one out in the top of the ninth, Charlie Deal doubled, then stole third. James struck out for the second out, but Les Mann singled to center scoring Deal. After another walk, Plank got out of more damage by inducing a ground out. In the bottom of the ninth, James walked two, but a strikeout and a double play ended the threat and the inning. James had given the Braves a two game lead with the World Series heading to Boston.

The Series would resume in Boston for two more games. It appears that MLB used a two-two-one-one-one formula for the World Series in this era (although none of them went seven except 1912) meaning that the Braves would have to return to Philadelphia for any game five. (This seems to be the pattern for the era, but I’ve been unable to find anything that states this for certain.)

 

 

1914: The Miracle Team

October 10, 2014
Johnny Evers and George Stallings (left and right)

Johnny Evers and George Stallings (left and right)

The Boston team was one of the best 19th Century baseball clubs. In the 1870s they’d dominated the National Association, then won consecutive pennants in the first years of the National League. There was a hiatus in the 1880s, but they roared back to be one of the great clubs of the 1890s. Their owner was a jerk (but so were a lot of 19th Century owners) so when the American League was formed, most of the good players jumped to the new league. Boston, the National League version, languished for the entire first decade of the 20th Century. Trying to return to relevancy, in 1913 they hired George Stallings to manage the team.

Stallings had been a so-so player in the 1880s and 1890s, who’d managed Philadelphia in the National League and both Detroit and New York in the American League. He’d never won a pennant, finishing as high as second in 1910, but was considered a good judge of talent. He was given a team that had little talent and got them to fifth in 1913. By 1914 he was starting to figure out how to do the best he could with what he had. That meant he pushed for and got a series of good trades and then instituted a platoon system (he didn’t invent platooning, but merely used it). As most of you know, on 4 July, Boston, now called the Braves, was in last place in the NL. The traditional story is they got hot and eventually ran away with the pennant. That’s true, to a point. On 4 July they lost both ends of a double-header, dropping them to 26-40. But third place St. Louis had 35 loses. So the NL was tightly bunched and any kind of streak was destined to move them up in the standings. By 4 August they were 47-45 (heck of a month, right?), now in fourth place, and two games out of second. By 4 September, they were a half game back of the league leading Giants. From that point they went 28-7 and coasted to the pennant (running away only in September) . Among other things, it got Stallings the nickname “Miracle Man.”

So who were these guys? Butch Schmidt played first. Hall of Fame middle infielders Johnny Evers (who would win the 1914 MVP award) and Rabbit Maranville were at second and short. Charlie Deal was the normal third baseman, but Red Smith (not the journalist) did a lot of work at third. Larry Gilbert, Les Mann, and Joe Connolly did more work in the outfield than anyone else, but the platoon system worked primarily in the outfield and Josh Devore, George “Possum” Whitted, and Ted Cather spelled them. The only category in which they led the league was walks, although they were second in runs and doubles, and third in home runs and OBP.

Catcher Hank Gowdy (who has been touted in some Hall of Fame conversations, although I wouldn’t vote for him) handled a staff of Dick Rudolph, Bill James, and Lefty Tyler. None had particularly remarkable careers prior to 1914 and little was expected of them when the season began, but they led the league in complete games, and were second in shutouts, while finishing third in both hits and runs allowed. As an individual, James led the NL in winning percentage.

Nothing much was expected of Boston in the World Series. It was supposed to be a Philadelphia walkover. After all, the NL hadn’t won in a while and everyone knew the Braves were a fluke.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Miracles, 1914 Style

January 25, 2010

If ever there was a year full of miracles it was 1914. In June a bunch of half-trained adolescents killed a married couple in Sarajevo and all hell broke loose in the form of the First World War. The early part of the war gave us The Angel of Mons (a miraculous winged vision that led a lost British unit to safety), the Miracle at Tannenberg (when a vastly outnumbered German army destroyed a Russian army), and the Miracle of the Marne (when the French stopped the advancing Germans within sight of Paris). By December 1914, a lot of men simply saw it as a miracle that they were still alive.

Baseball had its own miracle, the 1914 Boston (now Atlanta) Braves. The Braves were a dominant force in the National League at the end of the 19th Century, but fell on hard times in the early 20th. Betwen 1910 and 1912 they finished dead last each year. By 1913 they climbed to 5th under new manager George Stallings.  Stallings was a former catcher who played 7 games in the 1890s managing to bat an even 100 for his career. He took over a floundering franchise and by 18 July 1914 it looked like the team wasn’t going to stop floundering anytime soon. They were dead last again in the league 13.5 games out of first. According to legend that’s when Stallings installed a platoon system, picked up a handful of has-beens and never-was types, and the team took off. The Braves won 34 of their last 44 games, swept past the New York Giants and won the pennant by 10.5 games. In roughly half a season they made up 24 games.

If that wasn’t shocking enough, they went into the World Series against the defending World Champion Philadelphia Athletics and swept the series. Game one was a blowout (7-1),  but the others were close (1-0, 5-4, and 3-1).  The Braves outhit the A’s 244 to 172 and had the only home run (catcher Hank Gowdy, who also led all hitters with a 545 average, led the series with 3 runs scored and tied for the RBI lead with 3). The team ERA was 1.15 versus the A’s ERA of 3.41.

OK, so who are these people? Most of them were role players in their own day, and thus don’t become household names passed down through the roughly century since they played. From first around to third, the infield was Butch Schmidt, Johnny Evers (a Hall of Famer primarily known for his work with the Cubs), Rabbit Maranville (also a Hall of Famer), and Charle Deal. The outfield, where most of the platooning took place was Possum Whitted, Les Mann, Joe Connolly, Josh Devore, and Ted Cather (the latter two came over in midseason and helped the run to the top). Hank Gowdy caught with Bert Whaling as his backup. The only other players to notch 50 or more games was Red Smith, another late season add on who spelled Deal at 3rd and Oscar Dugey who seems to have been the primary pinch hitter. The main pichers were Dick Rudolph, Bill James (as far as I can tell, no relation to the modern stats man), and Lefty Tyler. Dick Crutcher was the main bullpen man.

So what happened to make them winners? First, Stallings gets credit for the platoon system. Second, a number of mid-season additions provided a spark that led the team to victory. The pitchers developed. As a staff they allowed the 2nd fewest runs in the league. Rudolph was 14-13 the year before. In 1914 he went 26-10 and lowered his ERA by a half run. James came out of nowhere. He’d played 2 mediocre years previously. The blog “The On Deck Circle”  just did a wonderful piece on One Year Wonders (check it out).  He used only the last 20 years to define his people, but if he’d gone back 100, he might have chosen James. He ended with a losing record for his career (and was banned in the gambling scandal that blew up after 1919). Fourth, the hitters were better than an initial look at their stats might show. They were second in the league in OBP, third in slugging, and second in OPS. They were also 2nd in the league in runs. Additionally, the Chalmers Award, an early MVP award, was given for the final time in 1914. The NL winner? Braves second baseman Johnny Evers. I’m not sure why. He hits 279, third on the team, is fourth in stolen bases, 6th in slugging and 5th in RBIs.  He does lead the team in runs. Fielding stats show him a decent, but not spectacular 2nd baseman. I presume there is a leadership factor involved that I don’t know about (but am willing to learn about if anyone knows).

All those things taken together can lead to a pennant. For the 1914 Braves it did. They’ve been the “Miracle Braves” since.