Posts Tagged ‘Wally Schang’

Beginning a Dynasty: The “Ole Perfessor” Redux, and “Long Bob”

June 23, 2016

With the World Series tied a game each in 1923, the Series returned to Yankee Stadium for game three. The Yanks were, with up to five games remaining, assured of at least two more home games and possibly three. This time a nemesis from earlier in the Series would strike again, and a prelude to the “Bronx Bombers” of a few years later would show up.

Casey Stengel with the Giants

Casey Stengel with the Giants

Game 3

On 12 October the two teams squared off for game 3 of the 1923 World Series in Yankee Stadium. The Giants sent Art Nehf to the mound. The Yankees countered with Sam Jones. John McGraw, Giants manager, made one change to his lineup. Game 2 saw left Herb Pennock on the mound for the Yankees, so part-time center fielder Casey Stengel had not gotten the start (he did pinch hit). With righty Jones on the mound Stengel was back in the lineup.

The two teams battled inning after inning without denting the scoreboard. Through six innings Nehf gave up two singles and two walks to go with three strikeouts. Only in the fourth had a man gotten to third. Jones was as good. Through six innings he’d given up only two hits while handing out a walk and two strikeouts. It was a true pitchers duel.

In the top of the seventh Irish Meusel led off with a liner to left caught by his brother Bob for out one. That brought up Stengel. He sent a fly to deep right field that cleared the fences for a more traditional home run than his inside-the-park homer of game one. It put the Giants ahead 1-0.

Nehf now needed nine outs to put the Giants up two games to one. He gave up a walk and a single but got out of the  bottom of the seventh without a run being scored. In the bottom of the eighth he gave up a leadoff single, but consecutive strikeouts made two outs and a grounder back to the mound led to the third out. With one inning to play, Stengel’s home run was holding up. In the bottom of the ninth a grounder to third, a strikeout, and another grounder to third ended the game and put the Giants up two games to one.

Nehf was a hero, so was Stengel. Nehf pitched a complete game shutout with only three walks and six hits. Stengel’s homer was the difference. The Giants had two wins, both courtesy of the “Ole Perfessor.”

"Long Bob" Meusel (right) in 1927 with Babe Ruth (center) and Earle Combs (left)

“Long Bob” Meusel (right) in 1927 with Babe Ruth (center) and Earle Combs (left)

Game 4

The game of 13 October 1923 saw the Yankee bats truly explode for the first time. In the second inning they teed off on Giants starter Jack Scott for six runs. Wally Pipp led off the second with a single. Aaron Ward followed with another. An easy by Wally Schang rolled back to the mound should have gotten at least one out, but Scott threw it away to load the bases. Everett Scott proceeded to single scoring both Pipp and Ward. At that point Scott was relieved by Rosy Ryan. He induced a fly by Yanks pitcher Bob Shawkey which brought both the first out and the third run when Schang crossed the plate. A double by Whitey Witt scored Scott to make the score 4-0. Joe Dugan hit one to third, which was snagged by Heinie Groh. Witt, for reasons known only to him, broke for third, but was tagged out by Groh for the second out. A walk to Babe Ruth put two men on. That brought up Bob Meusel who tripled home both Dugan and Ruth. That was all for Ryan. Hugh McQuillan took over the pitching duties and managed to get designated rally killer Pipp to fly out to center field. The wreckage left the Giants down 6-0.

The Yanks added a single run in the third when Witt doubled to score Ward. Then in the fourth Ruth walked and came home on a Ward single. That made the score 8-0 and the Yankees coasted from there.

The Giants finally managed to score three runs in the bottom of the eighth. Three consecutive singles, one by Casey Stengel, again in the middle of a Giants scoring chance, led to a run, then two groundouts each scored a single run. There was still a chance for the Giants going into the ninth when Ross Youngs led off with an inside-the-park home run to cut the score to 8-4. But Herb Pennock, in relief of Shawkey got a groundout, a strikeout, and a fly to center to finish the game.

The Series was now tied at two games each with the Yankees getting two games at home.

 

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Beginning a Dynasty: The “Ole Perfessor” and the Babe

June 21, 2016

With both the Yankees and the Giants sharing the same hometown, the World Series was played on consecutive days in October 1923. The teams alternated parks with Yankee Stadium getting game one and the Polo Grounds holding game two. Two future Hall of Famers would step front and center in the first two games.

Casey Stengel with the Giants

Casey Stengel with the Giants

Game 1

For game one on 10 October, the Yankees started Waite Hoyt on the mound. The Giants responded with Mule Watson. Bush was on the mark early in the game, but not Watson. He walked Joe Dugan with one out. Babe Ruth grounded to short, but the relay was late and he was safe at first with Dugan recording the second out of the inning at second. A Bob Meusel double sent Ruth all the way around for the game’s first run. In the next inning consecutive singles, two outs, and another single brought home both Wally Schang and Aaron Ward to put the Yankees up 3-0. That did it for Watson. He was scheduled to bat in the third and was pulled for a pinch hitter. Rosy Ryan relieved him.

But before Ryan could take the mound, the Giants erupted for four runs in the top of the third to take the lead. A single, a walk, another single brought up Dave Bancroft. A force at second scored one run and gave the Giants one out. After Bancroft stole second, Heinie Groh tripled to score two and send manager Miller Huggins to the mound to get Hoyt. Bullet Joe Bush took over and gave up a single to plate Groh making the score 4-3.

And there it stayed until the seventh inning stretch. Ryan pitched well, but in the bottom of the seventh he gave up a single to Bush, who was a very good hitting pitcher. An out by Whitey Witt brought up Dugan. He tripled driving in Bush to tie the game. Ruth then drove a sharp grounder to first. Dugan broke for home but was out at the plate. A Meusel fly ended the threat.

The Giants got a man on in the top of the eighth and the Yanks got two on, but no one scored. That brought the game to the top of the ninth. Two quick outs brought up center fielder Casey Stengel (who’d later manage the Yankees). He drove a ball to deep left center, the deepest part of the ballpark. Racing around the bases, he lost a shoe, but continued running. He beat the throw home and scored an inside-the-park home run to give the Giants a lead. One wit, likening Stengel to the race horse Man O’ War noted he’d thrown a shoe but still finished first by a head. Now in front, Ryan proceeded to set the Yankees down in order in the bottom of the ninth to close out the win for the Giants 5-4.

Stengel got most of the press, but Ryan had done well in very long relief. Groh had two RBIs and Bancroft contributed a key stolen base. Game two was the next day.

The Babe

The Babe

Game 2

The Giants hosted game two 11 October 1923 in the Polo Grounds. They had Hugh McQuillen pitching while the Yankees sent southpaw Herb Pennock out to tie up the Series.

Neither pitcher got through six outs before giving up a run. With one out in the top of the second Arron Ward slugged a homer for the Yankees. Giants left fielder Emil “Irish” Meusel matched the home run with one of his own in the bottom of the second to tie up the game 1-1.

Two innings later, Babe Ruth led off the top of the fourth with a home run to right. Later in the inning singles by Wally Pipp, Wally Schang, and Everett Scott scored Pipp to put the Yanks up 3-1. In the top of the fifth, Ruth added his second homer of the game when he drove a ball down the right field line to make the score 4-1.

The Giants mounted a comeback in the sixth. Heinie Groh and Frankie Frisch both singled. A Ross Youngs single plated Groh, but a force at second and a double play shut down the Giants rally leaving the score 4-2.

And it stayed that way. Pennock allowed three more hits the rest of the way, but no Giant advanced beyond second base. The Yankees win tied up the Series at one game apiece. The next day the Series would return to Yankee Stadium as a best of five series.

 

 

Beginning a Dynasty: the 1923 Yankees

June 13, 2016
Yankee Stadium

Yankee Stadium

Most fans know the Yankees have over the years produced the greatest dynasty in Major League Baseball. Ask most of them when it began and they’ll probably give you 1927. The ’27 Yankees are legendary and were a truly great team. But the dynasty actually started in the early 1920s. Between 1921 and 1923 inclusive, the Yankees took on the crosstown rival Giants in the first three “Subway Series.” This is a look at the third of those.

Manager Miller Huggins had a team that went 98-54 winning the pennant by 16 games (over Detroit). They finished first in slugging and home runs, second in triples and OPS, and were third in four categories: runs, hits, average, and OBP. They also lead the American League in total bases. Despite being known as a hitting team, the pitching was equally good. New York led the AL in ERA, hits, runs, and strikeouts. They were third in both shutouts and walks.

The underrated staff consisted of five men who started double figure games. The one lefty was Hall of Famer Herb Pennock. He went 19-6 with an ERA of 3.13, with a 1.271 WHIP and 5.9 WAR. The WAR was first among pitchers and second on the team. Waite Hoyt was 23 and also a Hall of Famer. He went 17-9 with a 3.02 ERA, more walks than strikeouts, and 4.0 WAR. The “ace” was Bullet Joe Bush who won 19 games in a team leading 30 starts. He led the team with 125 strikeouts and produced 5.5 WAR. Bob Shawkey and Sam Jones rounded out the starters. Between them they won 37 games with Jones leading the team with 21. His ERA was 3.63 and he had walked one more than he struck out. The bullpen’s leading man was Carl Mays, three years removed from the pitch that killed. His ERA was a monstrous 6.20 but he was the only other man to appear in more than eight games.

Wally Schang, Fred Hofmann, and Benny Bengough did the catching. Schang was the main starter. He hit .276 with no power. He was almost dead on the league average in throwing out base runners. Hofmann was the main backup. He hit better than Schang, but wasn’t considered as good on defense or in handling pitchers. Bengough, who’d become part of the Murderers Row Yankees of the later 1920’s was in only 19 games.

The infield was good, but not great. From first around to third the normal starters were Wally Pipp, Aaron Ward, Everett Scott, and Jumpin’ Joe Dugan (Dugan would still be around for the late 1920s). Pipp hit over .300, Scott less than .250. Ward had 10 home runs, good for second on the team, and Pipp was second on the team with 109 RBIs. Ward’s 4.4 WAR was second on the team among hitters. Mike McNally was the only backup infielder who got into 30 or more games. He hit .211 with no power. There was a 20 year old first baseman named Lou Gehrig who got into 13 games, hit .423 with a homer and eight RBIs. He’d later replace Pipp.

The outfield had two good players and it had Babe Ruth. Bob Meusel and Whitey Witt were the good players. Between the they had 15 home runs, while Meusel’s 91 RBIs were third on the team. His 15 stolen bases were second on the team (and you’ll never guess who was first). He had what was considered the finest throwing arm in either league and tended to play the long field (in Yankee Stadium that was left field) while Ruth took the short corner outfield spot (in Yankee Stadium that put him in right). Witt was the center fielder. His WAR was 3.1, Meusel’s was 1.7. Behind them stood Harvey Hendrick and Elmer Smith.

Then there was the Babe. He hit .393, led the team in stolen bases with 17 (told you that you’d never guess), had 41 home runs, 130 RBIs, 45 doubles, 205 hits, 399 total bases, and 170 walks. All but the doubles and average led the league (the doubles were third, the average was second). All that got him the 1923 League Award, the 1920s version of the modern MVP. His OPS+ was 239, second highest of his career, his WAR was a career high 14.1.

The Yanks were two-time defending AL champions and two-time losers in the World Series. In 1923 they would try to remedy the latter. In their way stood their two-time conquerors, the Giants.

 

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 Boston, part 1

October 20, 2014

After a pair of brief comments on the current World Series contenders, it’s time to get back to the world of 100 years ago.

Braves Field in Boston

Braves Field in Boston

On 12 October, the 1914 World Series resumed in Boston. The Braves were up two games to none against Philadelphia. Because the Braves home park (Southend Grounds) was smaller and older than the Red Sox new home in Fenway Park, the games in Boston were played in Fenway, not the Braves home park (Braves Field, pictured above, was opened in 1915 and so unavailable for use in the ’14 Series).

Game 3

Game three was one of the longest games in World Series history. The Braves started Lefty Tyler, who was 16-13 for the season, against the Athletics’ Bullet Joe Bush (17-13). The A’s got one in the first on Eddie Murray’s leadoff double. A bunt sent him to third and he came home on an error by left fielder Joe Connolly. The Braves got it back in the bottom of the second when, with two outs, Rabbit Maranville walked, stole second, and came home on a Hank Gowdy double. Philadelphia got the lead back in the top of the fourth on a Stuffy McInnis double and a run scoring single by center fielder Jimmy Walsh. Not to be outdone, Boston came back to tie it up on a Butch Schmidt single, a sacrifice, and a Maranville single.

And it stayed 2-2 for the rest of the regular innings. Through the end of the ninth, Tyler had given up two runs, two walks, and six hits, while striking out three. Bush was about as good and the game went into the 10th. Wally Schang led off the top of the 10th with a single. Bush then struck out. Then Tyler hashed a bunt and Schang went to second with Murray safe at first. A Rube Oldring ground out sent Schang to third and Murray to second. An intentional walk to Eddie Collins loaded the bases for Frank “Home Run” Baker. He didn’t hit a homer, but Baker lashed a single that scored both Schang and Murray. McInnis hit a fly to center to end the top of the 10th. Bush needed three outs to put Philly back in the Series. Gowdy started the bottom of the 10th with a home run to narrow the score to 4-3. Then a strikeout, walk, and single later Connolly made up for the earlier error. His sacrifice fly to center scored Howie Moran to knot the game.

During the bottom of the 10th Tyler was lifted for a pinch hitter. Braves pitcher Bill James replaced him. He got through the 11th and top of the 12th despite giving up three walks (but no hits). Bush, still pitching for the A’s, had a perfect 11th. In the bottom of the 12th, Gowdy led off with a double. Les Mann replaced him on the bases. An intentional walk later, up came Moran who hit the ball back to Bush. The pitcher fielded it and tossed to third to get the lead run. He missed the base and Mann trotted home with the winning run.

The A’s had a couple of chances to win, but Boston kept the score tied and won on an error. There’d been total nine runs scored. All but one were earned-the last one.

 

 

 

 

1914: The Big, Bad A’s

October 8, 2014
The Athletics

The Athletics

One hundred years ago this month one of the greatest upsets in World Series history occurred, the Philadelphia Athletics lost to the Boston Braves. No one expected to the Braves to win the National League pennant, let alone win the World Series. They were a bunch of cast-offs and losers who’d been put together from out of the trashcan, but they’d won the whole thing. They are, to this day, known as the “Miracle Braves.” I want to take a look at both the teams and the Series (and BTW Kevin at Baseball Revisited has just completed running a simulation of the Series on his site–see Blogroll at right) over the next few days. Because they lost, let’s start with the team that gets very little press in the entire endeavor, the big, bad Philadelphia A’s.

Connie Mack’s Athletics were defending world champions. In fact, they’d won three of the last four World Series (losing out to the Red Sox in 1912). To this point it was the most consistent of American League teams winning pennants in 1902, 1905, 1910, 1911, 1913, and the current pennant. They won 99 games in 1914 taking the pennant by 8.5 games over the Red Sox. If you look at their positional wins above average, they were above average in all positions except right field. They led the AL in runs, hits, homers, average, slugging, OBP, OPS, OPS+, and total bases. The hitters consisted of the $100,00 infield of Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Frank “Home Run” Baker from first around the horn to third. Collins led the league in runs scored, while Baker was the home run champion. McInnis was second in RBIs with 95 (it’s a league with Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker so you’re not going to lead the AL in much with them around). The outfield consisted of Rube Oldring, Amos Strunk, and Eddie Murphy (obviously not the comedian). All hit between .277 and .272 and were decent fielders for the era. Wally Schang was now Mack’s primary catcher. He hit .287 with a 137 OPS+ and managed to catch 45% of opponents base stealers, which was dead on league average.

The pitching was beginning to wither a bit. The team finished first in no major category (except wins, obviously) but was second in shutouts and strikeouts. It was fourth in hits and third in runs allowed (fourth in earned runs). Stalwarts Eddie Plank and Chief Bender were aging (Plank was 38), Jack Coombs was gone, and an entire group of younger pitchers were trying to make their mark. Bob Shawkey, Bullet Joe Bush, Weldon Wycoffe, and Herb Pennock were all in their early 20s (Pennock was 20) and Rube Bressler was only 19. Bush and Bender were technically the aces with 17 wins each. If the A’s had a problem it was with the staff.

They were overwhelming favorites to win. The National League hadn’t won a World Series since Honus Wagner’s Pirates in 1909 and the Braves were an absolute fluke. No one expected what was coming, except maybe the Braves.

 

 

 

Opening Day 1914: American League

March 27, 2014
Stuffy McInnis, first base Philadelphia Athletics

Stuffy McInnis, first base Philadelphia Athletics

Next week marks what most of us consider the real Opening Day for MLB. So it’s time for a look at what was going on Opening Day 100 years ago. As the American League contained the World Champion Athletics, I think I’ll start with them (having done the “outlaw” Federal League already).

The champion A’s were much the same team as the 1913 version with the $100,000 Infield in place (Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Frank Baker). The outfield was still decent and in Wally Schang the A’s had a good catcher. They led the AL in hits, runs, home runs, RBIs, and average. The Athletics used a dominant pitching staff to rule the A for five years, but it was beginning to fray. Jack Coombs was gone (he pitched only 2 games), Eddie Plank was 38 and not aging well. Herb Pennock had five starts over the previous two years, while Bullet Joe Bush had all of 17. As a consequence, the A’s would have 24 shutouts, but lead the league in no other category. They were fourth in ERA and hits allowed.

Two teams would give them a run for their money. One was Washington. The Senators finished 19 games back, but they had Walter Johnson who led the AL in wins, shutouts, and strikeouts.

The greater challenge came from Boston. the Red Sox still had Tris Speaker, Duffy Lewis, ad Harry Hooper as their outfield. Speaker led the league in hits and doubles. Pitcher Dutch Leonard went 19-5 with an all-time low ERA of 1.00 (try losing five games with that ERA). But the most important news at Boston and for baseball in general was the arrival on 11 July of a rookie pitcher from Baltimore with the nickname of “Babe” Ruth. He would go 2-1 over four games (three starts), but it was the beginning of the most famous of all Major League careers.

Around the rest of the AL, Ty Cobb again won a batting title (.368) and the slugging crown (.513). His teammate Sam Crawford led the league in RBIs and triples. Fritz Maisel, a third baseman for the Highlanders, won the stolen base title with 74 and Baker with the A’s copped the home run title with nine. In April future Hall of Fame pitcher Red Faber made his debut for the White Sox, while Fred McMullin, one of the 1919 Black Sox (and Faber teammate) played his first big league game with Detroit in August. The 1920s stalwarts Everett Scott and Jack Tobin also first show up in 1914. Finally, 1914 is the rookie campaign for Bill Wambsganss, famous for the only unassisted triple play in World Series history (1920).

In the World Series, Philadelphia would be mauled by the “Miracle Braves” of Boston. It would be the end of Connie Mack’s A’s dynasty (he’d put together another in 1929) and the arrival of Ruth would signal the start of a new dynasty. This one in Fenway Park.

 

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)

Mack’s Catchers

March 6, 2014
Jack Lapp

Jack Lapp

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the final season of Connie Mack’s first great dynasty. The Philadelphia Athletics of 1910-1914 won four pennants (all but 1912) and three World Series’ (1910, 1911, and 1913). Over the life of this blog, I’ve spent a lot of time with this team. I’ve looked at the pitchers. I’ve looked at the outfielders. I’ve gone over the so-called “$100,000 infield”. I’ve even looked at a couple of bench players. However, I’ve never spent much time checking out the catchers. Here’s an attempt to rectify that.

For most of the period, Mack used two catchers more or less interchangeably. By that I mean no catcher played a lot of games in the field but there was no obvious platoon system. Although one hit from the left side (Jack Lapp) and the other from the right (Ira Thomas), Thomas got way too many at bats for there to be a platoon system going on.  Being a former catcher himself, Mack seems to have understood how tough the job was, how wearing it was on the body, so he gave his catchers a lot of rest. At least I think that’s what’s going on. I can find no absolute confirmation of that, but I can find no other obvious reason for how he uses his catchers. That being the case, he got pretty good work out of a pair of really obscure players.

For most of the period, the A’s relied on both Jack Lapp and Ira Thomas for catching duties. There were a number of other men who squatted behind the plate for the A’s, men like Paddy Livingston, and late in the period Wally Schang (who more or less replaced Thomas), but Lapp and Thomas did the bulk of the work for the 1910-1914 dynasty.

Ira Thomas (note the chest protector)

Ira Thomas (note the chest protector)

Both men were decent catchers, generally finishing in the upper half of the fielding stats for the American League (an eight team league in their era). Both were generally considered good handlers of pitchers, but I can find no evidence that either was specifically a “personal catcher” to any of the pitchers (the way McCarver was for Carlton, for example). As hitters, neither was anything to write home to mom about. Neither hit much. Lapp ended up at .263 with five homers and 166 RBIs (but an OPS+ of 104) and Thomas .242 with three home runs and 155 RBIs (and an OPS+ of 82). Most of Lapp’s OPS+ came in three seasons, only one of which (1915) he played 100 games.

Lapp played in all four World Series’ getting into five total games. He had four hits (all singles), scored a run and drove in another, hitting .235. Thomas played in only the first two, hitting .214 with four hits, three runs, and three RBIs. As mention above, Wally Schang replaced him as the second primary catcher in the final two Series’.

After leaving the Majors, Lapp in 1917 and Thomas in 1916, neither man ever managed in the Majors. Thomas coached at Williams College, then joined the A’s as a coach. Later he scouted for Mack. Thomas died in 1958 and Lapp went down with pneumonia in 1920.

Both men are pretty nameless today. They were never stars nor even major players. They did contribute to the A’s winning three World Series’ in four tries and establishing the first successful American League dynasty.

The Mackmen

April 5, 2013
1911 Athletics leave the field (note the White Elephants on their jackets)

1911 Athletics leave the field (note the White Elephants on their jackets)

Baseball is full of dynasties. Although some people might pick the 1903-04 Boston team as the first American League dynasty, I have a better candidate. I pick the 1910-1914 Philadelphia Athletics, Connie Mack’s White Elephants.

Connie Mack was a catcher for a handful of years in the 19th Century. He was known for his savvy and his knowledge of the game, but not so much for his hitting. When the American League was formed in 1901 he joined Ben Shibe in creating the team in Philadelphia. With tradition using “Athletics” for the team from Philly, Mack adopted the name, and after a jibe from John McGraw, adopted the “white elephant” as the team logo.

They were good from the beginning. In 1902, they won the second AL pennant. In 1905 they won another pennant and participated in the second World Series, losing in five games to McGraw’s Giants. For the next three seasons they finished in the first division in 1906 and ’07, then slid to sixth in 1908. By 1909 they were in a new ballyard, Shibe Park (later Connie Mack Stadium), and on the rebound.

The 1910-1914 A’s were a truly great team. With the 1915-1918 Red Sox, they provide one of the two great AL dynasties in Deadball Baseball. They were a team that did almost everything well. They hit, they hit for power (Deadball version), ran the bases, fielded well (for the era), and had excellent pitching. With the prevailing small rosters of the era, they even managed to put together a decent bench.

The heart of the team was the infield. In 1910 Harry Davis was finishing up a  solid career. He’d picked up three home run titles and a couple of RBI crowns along the way and was one of Mack’s favorites. By 1911 he was being replaced by Stuffy McInnis, a wonderful fielding first baseman (for any era) who hit .300 for his career and regularly knocked in 90 runs (during the 1911-14 run). Jack Barry played short and hit low in the order for a reason. He was a good, but not spectacular fielder. Hall of Famer Eddie Collins anchored second. He usually batted second, stole a lot of bases, hit .300 regularly, played second well, and his career high in strikeouts was 41 (OK, he wasn’t Joe Sewell, but he was still pretty good at putting the bat on the ball). Some stat heads consider him the greatest of all second basemen. At third there was J. Frank Baker. He was the power hitter for the team. He won three home run titles, a triples title, a couple of RBI crowns, and in 1911 hit two memorable home runs in the World Series that gave him the nickname “Home Run Baker.” Like Collins, he is also in the Hall of Fame.

The other key to the Mackmen was their pitching staff. Mack always seemed to find jewels for his mound. Maybe being an ex-catcher helped. By 1910 the staff revolved around three pitchers. Eddie Plank was the oldest and the left-hander. He’d been a mainstay of the Athletics since 1901, had been part of both championship teams (1902 and ’05), had pitched in the 1905 World Series, and was generally Mack’s most reliable pitcher. He would, when he retired in 1917, be the winningest lefty ever (326 wins). But Mack’s favorite was Chief Bender. Bender Joined the A’s in 1903, won the only game the A’s won in the ’05 World Series, and was the pitcher Mack favored to start most important series’ and to anchor the postseason staff. Jack Coombs was the new guy. He got to Philly in 1906, had been fairly undistinguished, then in 1910 put it together for a great three-year run. In 1913 he came down with typhoid, which derailed his career. He got back to the World Series with Brooklyn in 1916 (winning their only game) but was never the pitcher he’d been between 1910 and 1912. In 1910 and ’11 Harry Krause and Cy Morgan were the other pitchers who spent major time on the mound. Boardwalk Brown and Bob Shawkey (who later managed the Yankees) replaced them for the late run with a young Herb Pennock being available in 1914.

Neither the catchers nor the outfielders were as well-known in the era. During the 1910-14 run, Mack used three catchers primarily: Jack Lapp, Ira Thomas, and Wally Schang, who was a rookie in 1913. Neither Lapp nor Thomas were much in the batters box. Thomas hit right-handed and all of .242 with no power. Lapp hit lefty and made it all the way to .263. Both men played almost the same amount of games one year, then the next one would play a lot more, so it’s difficult to see that Mack was platooning them (the percentage of lefty pitchers can’t have changed that much in one year). Maybe he was, but it’s hard to see. From what I can find, neither was used as a personal catcher for a particular pitcher (ala Carlton-McCarver), so I’m not quite sure how it worked. Maybe Mack, being a former catcher, knew how much the job wore on a player and decided to make sure each stayed healthy by using them about equally.

Five different men did most of the outfield work: Rube Oldring, Eddie Murphy, Jimmy Walsh, Amos Strunk,and Bris Lord. For 1910 only, Topsy Hartsell patrolled the outfield. As a group they tended to hit around .280 with at least one in the .300s. Strunk, in particular, was known for his arm. Add to them Danny Murphy (apparently not related to Eddie) who was good enough to play about anywhere and you had the makings of a pretty fair bench.

Between 1910 and 1914 the A’s won three World Series’ (1910, ’11, and ’13) and lost one more (1914). Hard times and the coming of the Federal League caused Mack to break up the team in 1915. Collins, Baker, and McInnis would go on to greater glory with pennant winning teams, but Mack and Philadelphia would languish in the AL until the late 1920s.