Posts Tagged ‘Ted Cather’

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.