Posts Tagged ‘World War I’

“Non-Essential”

March 30, 2012

Harry Hooper during the 19-teens

In April 1917 the United States entered the Great War on the side of the Entente (Britain, France, Russia) and sent men off to “make the world safe for Democracy” (nice try, fellas). The federal government began to mobilize American society to fight a war unlike any the US had ever faced. It would take a million men to fight it and even more to provide the materiel (yep, that’s spelled right. Materiel is a particular military spelling of material whose origins escape me.), goods, services, morale boosting necessary to fight a modern industrial war. The basic government slogan was “fight or work.” Unfortunately, most people didn’t see playing baseball as work so Major League Baseball was declared “non-essential” and the 1918 season was scrapped.

Of course baseball struck back. The leadership of both leagues argued that the sport provided a morale boost for both men on their way to France and to the munitions and shipyard workers who were supporting the troops, so it should be allowed. The government relented and authorized a shortened season that had to end by Labor Day (2 September) except for a World Series that could be held immediately after. That gave the game a shortened season (126 games for the American League champion and 129 for the National League champion) and led to some funny looking numbers.

With a lot of good players off at either war or war work, the Boston Red Sox won the AL pennant by 2.5 games over Cleveland. They failed to lead the AL in any major category in hitting (leading only in sacrifices). They, in fact, finished dead last in hits with 990. Individually Babe Ruth, now splitting time between the outfield and the mound, tied for the league lead with 11 home runs and led the AL with strikeouts with 58. Pitching was a different story. Boston lead the league in complete games, least hits allowed, shutouts, least runs allowed, and was seond in ERA. Both first baseman Stuffy McInnis and third baseman Fred Thomas spent some time away from the team while serving in the military, but were available for the World Series. Dave  Shean (who lead the AL in sacrifices) and Everett Scott rounded out the infield with Hall of Famer Harry Hooper in right field, Amos Strunk in center, and Ruth in left (with George Whiteman spelling Ruth on days he pitched). Sam Agnew and Wally Schang took care of the catching. The staff had Ruth, Carl Mays, Sam Jones, and Joe Bush starting double figures games and Dutch Leonard who also started 16 games but was gone to the military by the end of the season.

They got to face the Chicago Cubs in the Series. Chicago, which hadn’t won since 1910 had put together a good team through trades and won a pennant by 10.5 games. Fred Merkle (of 1908 infamy), Rollie Zeider, Charlie Hollocher, and Charlie Deal were the infield with Max Flack, Dode Paskert, and Les Mann doing the outfield work, while old-time Phillies catcher Bill Killefer did the backstop work. The staff consisted of Hippo Vaughn, Claude Hendrix, Lefty Tyler, and Phil Douglas as the starters with Paul Carter as the man out of the bullpen. Expected ace Grover Cleveland Alexander was off in the army after only three games. As with Boston, the stars were on the mound (although the team lead the NL in runs scored). Chicago led the NL in shutouts, least runs allowed, and in strikeouts.

It was a terrific Series, with Boston winning in six games. No team scored more than three runs in a game, no game was decided by more than three runs (a 3-0 shutout win by Chicago in game five). Four games (1, 3, 4, and 6) were decided by one run. Ruth won two games (Mays the other two for Boston), including game one. In doing so he stretched his consecutive scoreless inning streak. It stayed until game four’s eighth inning when Chicago got two runs (both earned). The record lasted until Whitey Ford slid passed it in 1960. There were no home runs and only Cubs backup second baseman Charlie Pick and Boston’s Schang hit over .300 (Schang led all hitters at .444).

Maybe 1918 was “non-essential” but it produced a good pennant race in the AL. It also produced a fine World Series. All-in-all not a bad way of diverting a wartime populace from the tragedy of World War I.

Jack Barry, Six-Time Winner

August 20, 2010

Jack Barry in 1913

You know one of the strange things you find out when you study baseball history is that no matter how good a particular player is, he usually, but not always, ends of on a  team that puts up a regular season losing record at some point. Babe Ruth did it in 1935, Mickey Mantle did it in the last couple of years of his career. Deadball player Jack Barry never did.

Barry was born in Connecticut in 1887. He played ball locally, then transferred his talents to Holy Cross. Connie Mack found him in 1908 and signed him to play with the Philadelphia Athletics. He became the shortstop of the “$100,000 infield” (Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Barry, Frank Baker first to third), the premier infield of the day. The $100,000 had to do with what the infield was worth, not what they were paid. He became part of the first Athletics dynasty that won the World Series in 1910, 1911, and 1913, then lost the Series in 1914. He stayed with the A’s into 1915, then found himself sold to the Boston Red Sox for $8000. The A’s ended up with a terrible record. The Sox went to the World Series.

With Barry at shortstop (longtime shortstop Larry Gardner went to third base), the Red Sox won the World Series in five games over the Philadelphia Phillies. The Red Sox promptly went out and won the 1916 World Series too, although Barry, by now a second baseman, missed the Series.  So in consecutive years from 1910 through 1916 Barry was on five World Series winners, one World Series loser, and saw his team miss the Series exactly once (1912). Not bad, right? Well, it was the end of the streak. In 1917, Red Sox manager Bill Carrigan retired from the dugout. Barry replaced him and led the BoSox to second place. It was his only year as manager,  Ed Barrow taking over in 1918.

Barry left the managerial job not because he wasn’t any good at it, but because the United States entered World War I. Barry joined the military and missed the entire 1918 season. Under Barrow, the Red Sox went back to, and won, the World Series. So there was no managerial job waiting for Barry when he returned  in 1919. He played in 31 games in 1919, then was sold back to the Athletics. Rather than report, he retired.

Over his career, Barry hit .243, slugged .303, had on OBP of .321 (for an OPS of .624), stole 153 bases, had 1009 hits, 532 runs, and 429 RBIs. His fielding was consistently among the league leaders, but he was never the most accomplished shortstop (or second baseman) in the AL. His World Series number mirror his regular season play very well. In 25 World Series games he hit .241, slugged .345, and had on OBP of .272 (for an OPS of .617), all very close to his career percentages. His managerial record was 90-62.

Barry was through with the Major Leagues, but not with baseball. In 1921 he took over coaching duties at Holy Cross and remained there the rest of his life. His career .806 winning percentage is a college record.

But the title says “six-time winner” and you’ve only counted five, right? Well, in 1952 he took Holy Cross to Omaha where they won the College World Series. Still coaching the team, he died in April 1961. Of the $100,000 infield, only Frank Baker outlived him. In 1966 he was one of the initial inductees to the College Baseball Hall of Fame. Not a bad outcome for a .243 hitter.

Death in the Argonne

January 18, 2010

Eddie Grant

A couple of friends of mine are British. According to them, when World War I broke out in 1914 a number of soccer clubs joined up in mass as “Pals” units. The idea was that you would go to war with your friends, which would make the transition easier and give you more to fight for. Of course the problem was that if the unit got caught up in the horror of the Somme or Passchendaele, well, there just wasn’t a soccer club left to be “Pals”.

American professional sportsmen have been luckier. There have been a number of amateur sports figures lost to war (Heisman trophy winner Nile Kinnick comes most quickly to mind in World War II), but the pros lost only one in World War I, third baseman Eddie Grant.

Grant was born in Massachusetts in 1883 and began his professional career in 1905 with the Cleveland Naps. He was back in the minors in 1906 but returned to the big leagues the next season with the Philadelphia Phillies. From 1908 to 1910 he was a sometimes hit, mostly good field third baseman who generally led off for the Phils, peaking in 1910 with 25 stolen bases and 67 runs. The Phils, being the Phils, immediately traded him to Cincinnati. Turns out the Phils were right. Grant was finished. He was traded to John McGraw’s Giants in 1913, where he finished his career in 1915. It wasn’t all that great a career. He hit 249, with 277 RBIs and a 295 slugging percentage.

During his career, Grant managed to pick up a degree from Harvard (1905) and spent his post baseball life as an attorney. In April 1917, immediately after he US declared war, Grant joined the 77th Infantry Division and became a captain. He went overseas with the Division in 1918 and participated in the campaign in the Argonne Forest. During the battles in the Argonne, a unit of the 77th was cut off from the rest of the Division, becoming the famous “Lost Battalion”. Grant’s unit was one of the companies sent in to find and make contact with the “Lost Battalion.”  On 5 October 1918, a shell exploded near Grant killing him instantly. He was buried in the Meuse-Argonne Military Cemetary.

Baseball was stunned. No Major League player had ever died in combat. True, Grant was retired, but still he was one of the boys. The Giants erected a monument to him in the Polo Grounds. It remained there until the Giants moved to San Francisco. If you watch the film of Willie Mays’ famous catch in 1954 you get a short glimpse of the monument before the camera begins zooming in on Mays.

Lost to War

January 5, 2010

Most people know about baseball in the World War II era. They know that a lot of very good players lost time in sports by being in the military. Most people also seem willing to accept that the statistics of these players are impacted by the war and don’t hold lower numbers against them. That’s great, but there have been two other times when players lost time to a war. Let’s take a look at those occasions.

First is the War to End Wars, World War I (It didn’ t do a very good job with that stated objective.). The US entered the war in April 1917 and it ended in November 1918. Not only did it impact players, it impacted the season in 1918. The campaign was shortened to less than 130 games, so every man who played that season had his stats curtailed. That includes Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, Walter Johnson, and Ty Cobb. Additionally players like Grover Cleveland Alexander, Joe Jackson, and George Kelly lost time either in the military or in war related work. Additionally, a couple of players lose a little time in 1917.

This happens again in the 1950’s. The US went to war in Korea in 1950 and stayed there a while (actually US troops are still in Korea). A number of truly exceptional players lost all or parts of a season to military service at this time. They include Ted Williams, Whitey Ford, Willie Mays and Don Newcombe. The war directly impaected the 1950 World Series when the Phillies number two starter Curt Simmons was called to duty just prior to the Series and was unable to pitch. The Phils were swept by the Yankees (including Ford, who wasn’t called up until the next season).

So next time someone bemoans the loss of playing time for World War II remind them that it’s not the only time it happened. You also might remind them that sometimes somethings are more important than playing a sport. It just seems like the thing to do.