Posts Tagged ‘Topsy Hartsel’

1910: Athletics Postmortem

October 8, 2010

Well, the Athletics were world champions at the end of the 1910 season, so in many ways it’s harder to look at them than at any other team. No matter what you see, you can’t get around the fact that ultimately they won. And of course if you know your history, you’ll know they are going to dominate the American League through 1914.

A simple look at the World Series should have frightened the entire American League. The A’s won in five games and only game four, the lone Cubs victory, was close. The A’s not only won the Series, they dominated. They scored 35 runs to 15 by Chicago. Their ERA was 2.76, Chicago’s 4.70. The team average was above .300 (.316). This was a formidable team and was going to be for years.

The heart of the team rested two places: the infield and the staff. The infield consisted of two future Hall of Famers: Eddie Collins at second and Frank Baker at third (the “Home Run” Baker nickname would not come until 1911). Both generally enter the argument for greatest player at their position, although Baker is generally in the bottom half of the top ten while Collins usually figures in the top three (Rogers Hornsby and Joe Morgan the other two names that most often show up with him.). Jack Barry was a good enough shortstop who fielded his position well and hit well enough to contribute. Stuffy McInnis replaced aging Harry Davis at first base and was an upgrade. The entire group was known as “The $100,000 Infield” (a lot of money in 1910), maybe the great infield of the Deadball Era..

The pitching staff was equally excellent, at least at the top. Hall of Famers Eddie Plank and Chief Bender are the most famous of Connie Mack’s hurlers, but in 1910 and 1911, Jack Coombs may have been the best. Behind these three were Cy Morgan and newcomer Harry Krause. Neither was the quality of Plank, Bender, or Coombs; and Morgan,at 32,was beginning to get a little long in the tooth (as was Plank at 35). Each would have one more decent year, then fade. In an era of three man rotations that wasn’t as critical as it would be today.

The rest of the team wasn’t bad, but not the quality of the infield and staff. Like Harry Davis, it ws aging. Outfielder Danny Murphy was 33, Topsy Hartsel was 36. Murphy managed to hit .300 with a team leading 18 triples, but Hartsel hit only .221 and ended up losing his spot to mid-season trade Bris Lord (who hit .276). Center fielder Rube Oldring managed .308 and was second in slugging at .430. Not bad numbers and if they held up the next season Philadelphia would reasonably expect to repeat.

Neither catcher was particularly special. Jack Lapp hit .234 and Ira Thomas .278 with no pop at all. A former catcher himself, Mack got quite a bit out of both by essentially platooning them. Lapp caught 63 games, Thomas 60. If you look at A’s catchers in the entire era, Mack is very good about not overworking them (and to some degree that’s true all across the big leagues) and manages to get more out of his catchers than most other teams.

All in all the A’s are set for a long run as contenders. That had happened before and since and teams set for long runs have fallen flat. For the A’s it was going to work out. they have three more World Series experiences in their near future, and two rings. 

This is the last look at a specific team in 1910. In my last post on the centennial of the season, I want to look at why 1910 matters to us today. Then I’ll finally get on to different things.

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The Way to Win: Deadball

August 6, 2010

Connie Mack

In the previous post I talked about how the Yankees dynasty teams were all built pretty much the same way with a solid manager, star players, good players, role players, and one-year wonders. I found this a good way to look at a “big picture”, as opposed to a stat-filled view of winners. It’s not just the Yankees who’ve done it that way. Consider the Deadball Era’s Philadelphia Athletics if you will. Although they win differently than the bashing Murder’s Row Yankees of the 1920s, the A’s are put together the same way.

Connie Mack was both manager and owner (which makes for really great job security for the manager). He’d been a 19th Century catcher who’d never been a great player, but he understood the importance of team unity, of pitching, of defense, and timely hitting. He put together a team that between 1910 and 1914 won the World Series three times, lost it once,  and finished third in 1912.

The hitting stars were second baseman Eddie Collins and third baseman Frank Baker. Both made the Hall of Fame and both hit extremely well. Collins provided speed to go with Baker’s power (power in Deadball Era terms). Additionally, Eddie Plank was a star pitcher, eventually racking up over 300 wins (he’s still third among lefties).

As mentioned earlier, you don’t win with just stars. You need a lot of good players around the stars. Mack had them. Stuffy McInnis, started the era as a role players, but quickly became a very good player at first base. On the mound Chief Bender overcame the racial prejudice of his era (he was an American Indian) and rose to Hall of Fame status as a solid pitcher and Mack’s favorite. Two other very good players came through the A’s dynasty for part of the period. Danny Murphy, a converted second baseman, was an outfielder in 1910-11 and Wally Schang took over the catching job late. Then there was Jack Coombs. Coombs had great years in 1910, 11, and 12, then got sick and his career faded. For those three years though, he may have been the best pitcher on the A’s , if not in all of baseball.

The team had a lot of role players who were able to step into holes or step up in games to provide the kind of solid play a team needs to win. Jack Barry was the shortstop for the entire period. He was a decent, without being truly great, shortstop who hit some. The outfield, other than Danny Murphy, consisted of Bris Lord, Rube Oldring, Amos Strunk,  Topsy Hartsell,  and Eddie Murphy. Not all of them started the entire time, but each contributed for at least a year or two. None were household names during the era (nor are they now). On the other hand, Harry Davis was something of a household name in the era. He’d led the AL in both doubles and home runs earlier in his career, but by 1910 was reduced to pretty much a role player (and in 1911 lost his first base job to McInnis).  Both Bob Shawkey and Herb Pennock came up late in run and both went on to stellar careers (Pennock making the Hall of Fame), but at this point in their lives they were role players.

The one-year wonders? Well, there was Harry Krause who went 11-8 on the mound in 1911 and 25-18 for the rest of his career and fellow pitcher Rube Bressler who went 10-3 in 1914 and 16-28 for the rest of his career . Mack seemed able to find guys like this frequently. Maybe his being an ex-catcher helped.

The Deadball A’s were put together very much like te Murder’s Row Yankees. They won differently by emphasizing pitching, timely hitting, speed, and power (as defined by Deadball Era stats) as opposed to raw power and effective pitching. Both worked well. As mentioned earlier the two teams look very different in the method they used to accomplish their job, but both are put together the same way. I want to look next week at two more squads to emphasize how many teams work like this over both different eras and different methods of winning.

Opening Day, 1910: Philadelphia (AL)

April 15, 2010

 

J. Franklin "Home Run" Baker

The Philadelphia Athletics were a premier American League team from the formation of the league in 1901. In 1902 they won the second pennant. In 1905 they played in the second World Series, losing in five games. Between 1906 and 1909 manager Connie Mack retooled his team so that it finished only 3.5 games behind Detroit in 1909. In 1910 the team was poised to take that 3.5 game jump.

As a contender in 1909, the A’s did little roster change in 1910. The heart of the team was its infield and its pitching staff. The infield consisted of Harry Davis at first, Eddie Collins at second, Jack Barry at short, and Frank Baker at third (“Home Run” Baker would come in 1911). Both Collins and Baker were destined for the Hall of Fame. The back up consisted of Simon Nicholls and eighteen year old phenom Stuffy McInnis (who would replace Davis at first in 1911). The quality and endurance of the infield was such that neither man played more than 21 games.

The outfield wasn’t as good as the infield, but there was quality there also. Former second baseman Danny Murphy was in right field and led the team in home runs in 1909 (with all of 5). Rube Oldring was a speedy center fielder who didn’t have much of an arm, and the left fielder was Topsy Hartsel, who at age 35 was getting old.Hartsel had replaced equally aged Bob Ganley. Heinie Heitmuller and Scotty Barr provided backup.

The catcher situation was fairly fluid. Mack, an ex-catcher, seems to have been aware of the way catching wore on a player and subsequently his catchers didn’t spend a lot of time behind the plate. In 1909 Ira Thomas caught for 84 games, Paddy Livingston for 64, and Jack Lapp for 19.  In 1910 Lapp took over as the primary catcher, but only caught three more games than Thomas. Livingston became the third catcher.

A great key to Mack teams was his pitching staff. He had a good one in 1910. Back from the previous year were future Hall of Famers Eddie Plank, on his way to a career 300 wins, and Chief Bender.  Harry Krause won 18 games in 1909 and Cy Morgan came from Boson during the 1909 season to win 16 games. Both were still available, as was Jimmy Dygert the primary bullpen man. Jack Coombs had been around since 1906 and had steadily risen in the A’s rotation. The new season was to be his breakout year.

So by 1910, the A’s were ready to challenge Detroit. With a solid infield, a good outfield, and excellent pitching they could do so. With a bit of luck they could pick up the 3.5 games they needed to hoist Philadelphia’s third pennant.

Next: the Red Sox

Long Day at the Office

February 21, 2010

On the 1st of September 1906, Boston saw one of the longest, if not best pitched games ever played. The Philadelphia Athletics, just off a losing trip to the World Series were in town to play the Americans (now the Red Sox). It was a Saturday afternoon.

The Americans sent second year pitcher Joe Harris to the mound. The A’s countered with rookie Jack Coombs, who was 5-7 going into the game. It was scoreless into the third inning when Coombs singled, stole second base, went to third on an infield out, then came home on an infield single. The Americans countered in the sixth when shortstop Freddy Parent tripled and came home on a single by center fielder Chick Stahl. Now with the preliminaries out of the way, the two pitchers settled down. They pitched scoreless ball through the seventh, the eighth, the ninth, the tenth. In fact they pitched scoreless ball through 23 innings. It wasn’t great pitching. Coombs gave up 15 hits and walked six. Harris gave up 12 hits and only walked two. But it was effective pitching. No body scored for 17 innings.

It came to an end in the 24th. Coombs led off the inning by striking out, then right fielder Topsy Hartsel singled and stole second base. Center fielder Briscoe Lord couldn’t advance him, but catcher Ossie Schreckengost, playing first that day, singled him home for the go-ahead run. Consecutive triples by left fielder Socks Seybold and second baseman Danny Murphy made the score 4-1. Then Coombs set down the Americans in order to post the win.

Coombs finished the season 10-11 and went on to a distinguished career with the A’s. In 1910 and 1911 he led the American League in wins (31 and 28) and posted 21 wins in 1912. In World Series play with the A’s he was 3-0 in 1910 and 1-0 in 1911 as the A’s won both series. He caught typhoid fever in 1913 and was out most of 1913 and 1914. The A’s sent him to Brooklyn in 1915 where he pitched well, winning the Robins’ (the were not yet the Dodgers) only game in the 1916 World Series. He hung on with Brooklyn through 1918, managed the 1919 Philadelphia Phillies to an 18-44 record and last place before being fired. In 1920 pitched five inning for Detroit before retiring. After leaving the Major Leagues he coached at Duke University from 1929-1952. They named the field for him. He died in 1957.

Harris’ career wasn’t nearly as successful. He ended the 1906 season 2-21, leading the league in losses. He stayed at Boston only through 1907 compiling a career 3-30 record  with a 3.35 ERA in 317 innings. He died in 1966.

For the game there are a couple of interesting box score lines. Seybold was 1 for 10, but the one was critical. Americans third baseman Red Morgan went 0-7. The game is fascinating, but inconsequential in the standings. The A’s finished fourth 12 games back and the Americans were dead last 45.5 games out of first.