Apr 29, 2011

Game 13 - "Clubbers from Clubville"

April 29, 1911
Philadelphia 10, New York 6

The A's hit the road with a win, taking down the same Yankees that bedeviled them so in the first series of the season. Hippo Vaughn*, who beat the A's on opening day, was unable to repeat his magic and was chased after three ineffective innings. HOFer Eddie Plank started and finished the game for Philadelphia and pitched well but for a four-run sixth. Stuffy McInnis**, the solid Athletics shortstop, went 5-for-5 with 2 runs scored.

According to the New York Times, "This was just the kind of a game baseball fans like. There were smashing hits, circus catches, daring stops of white hot grounders, plenty of action on the base paths, and some costly errors***, all of which went to make up a concoction that you would neglect your business any day to see." But with the Athletics "clubbing the ball with all the fury and terror that gave them the title of champions of the world," it was all just too much for the Yankees.

Despite the loss, it was a special day for the home team, as the Yankees debuted the new center field bleachers of Hilltop Park. In a rare treat for this blog and its faithful readers****, we have actual photos from this game (all from the Times, click to enlarge). Thanks to the excitement of the new addition to the ball park, a raucous crowd of 18,000, one of the largest ever at Hilltop, was there to witness the game.

This is the first game of the A's 22-game road trip, and it's good to start things off with a win. The A's are now 6-7 and in a three-way tie for fourth place. The next game will be on May 2nd.

* Hippo got his nickname thanks to his size, and the Times calls him a "giant southpaw." Vaughn is listed on b-r as 6' 4" and 215 pounds, which in this day and age doesn't strike me as particularly huge. Wouldn't it be weird if Matt Garza were nicknamed "Hippo?"

** From the Times again: "These world's champions are clubbers from Clubville. The lion of the day's clouting was Jack McInnes [sic], from Gloucester, Mass, and he's a whaler. There were just seven balls pitched at McInnes yesterday. One was a three-bagger and four others were one-base hits. The other two spare balls were thrown at him so far on the outside that he couldn't reach them. Five hits out of five times up, and fielding the short-stopper's province with a fine-tooth comb, was a noble day's work for the Gloucester lad.

*** It's interesting that costly errors were included as part of what fans like to see. Errors were a bigger part of the game then, so I guess it makes sense that fans would accept them as such.

**** The plural here might be a bit optimistic.

[Today's source for reporting, box score, and photos: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9805E4DB1431E233A25753C3A9629C946096D6CF]

Otis Johnson Batting

The Right Field Bleachers

Apr 28, 2011

Game 12 - "He assumed all the colors of the rainbow for beauty"

April 28, 1911
Washington 2, Philadelphia 1

(from the Washington Times; click to enlarge)

The A's no doubt thought they were on quite a roll after winning four straight, moving up two spots in the standings, and needing just one win to reach a .500 record for the first time. But a pitcher by the name of Walter Johnson was standing in the way of win number 5. Just about everybody knows that the Big Train was one of the best to ever pick up a baseball, so I won't bother talking about how great he was*. Just look at all that black ink.

How did the game go? Take it away, Senator: "Johnson was himself. At first he didn't look very good, but as the game progressed he assumed all the colors of the rainbow for beauty, and those champeens bowed their heads in grief as they went out at first, one after the other."

As the cartoon above implies, Johnson did his best to earn that fat $7,000 salary he was pulling in that season. And his pitching was just what the anemic Nats offense needed (last place in the AL with just a .219 team BA and 28 runs scored in 9 games). Their two runs in the 7th were just enough to give Johnson his first win of the season**.

Jack Coombs continued his post-malaria excellence giving up six hits over 9 innings, but the Big Train was just stingier. The A's only run of the game came from a home run by Home Run Baker*** himself. It was the first homer over the fence that Johnson had ever given up (there were a few of the inside-the-park variety on his resume though). Unfortunately, it was a wild throw by Baker that contributed to Washington's runs in the 7th.

Now 5-7 and winners of four out of their last five, the A's are about to embark on a massive road trip. They'll play the next 22 games in New York, Washington, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland, so they'll have seen all 7 other teams in the league by the end of it. They won't be back in Philadelphia for nearly a month.

* I'll let Ty Cobb do it though. When he batted against the 19-year-old Johnson for the first time, he was excited about the chance to throttle the newest hayseed pitcher plugged into the Senators' rotation. Instead, "the first time I faced him, I watched him take that easy windup. And then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn't touch him... every one of us knew we'd met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park."

** The cartoon from the game of the 26th that featured the medicine bottle labeled "Walter Johnson Reviving Drops" and had a tag reading "Hope coming" proved prophetic.

*** He hadn't gotten his great nickname yet, so by rights I should be calling him Frank, but I can't resist calling him Home Run.

[Today's Source: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026749/1911-04-29/ed-1/seq-12/;words=Athletics]

Game 11

April 27, 1911
Washington 6, Philadelphia 9

(from the Washington Times; click to enlarge)

Well, the bad news is that this is my first game that's coming a day late*, but the good news is that it's another win for the home team (four straight!). The A's are now just one game below .500 and have a nice little roll going.

The Senators' Steamboat Bill Otey, owner of 100.2 Major League innings and an ERA just north of 5, pitched what was probably one of the better games of his career... until the 8th inning when a monumental crooked number let the A's get their first big comeback win of the year. Washington fought back to make it interesting in the 9th, but it wasn't enough to stave off defeat.

I won't write much about this game, but you can still read about it in full here.

Tomorrow Colby Jack Coombs takes on the legendary Walter Johnson as the A's go for the sweep.

* A situation which the legions of regular readers of this blog may have to get used to.

[Today's source for box score and image: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026749/1911-04-28/ed-1/seq-14/;words=Athletics]

Apr 26, 2011

Game 10 - The Haughty Sons of Mack

April 26, 1911
Washington 2, Philadelphia 7

Wins have eluded the Athletics for most of April so far, so it's nice to see them get their third straight. Let's once again turn the proceedings over to "Senator" of the Washington Times (you can, and should, read the whole account here):
"The haughty sons of Connie Mack, all bedecked with the laurels of the past year and filled with the memories of their triumph over the young bruins, got busy once more and carved the Nationals into choice morsels.
Until that fifth inning, nary a man had scored, and it didn't look as if they were going to reach that four-cornered bit of cement, either. For three inning not a hit had been registered off the perpendicular person*. He was a world beater. But that fifth, Murphy opened it with a screaming base hit to right and advanced when Kid Elberfeld booted McInnis' firecracker. Bobby swayed in the gentle breeze, and Ira Thomas received a donation of one bag. Chief Bender whiffed questionably, the last ball being wide, but Amos Strunk, a peculiar looking chap, drew a pass, and Murphy just had to come in.

Rube Oldring was the candy infant** with his fine young two-bagger to left center, clearing the sacks. Bobby was much peeved about then, and didn't feel any better when Collins singled to center, scoring Oldring. Street took Baker's foul, and Zeb Milan ran nineteen miles out to the fence for Davis' clout. Five large man's sized tallies had trickled into the game and counted for the Athletics. It was really painful. Even Mrs. Bender, sitting in the upper tier of the grandstand, could not see the sense of it.
Chief Bender had his second start of the year and it was his second good one, though he took the loss on opening day. He gave up six hits and struck out a dozen Nationals***. Twelve Ks is a good total today, when MLB teams average over 7 per 9 innings. But it was even more impressive for 100 years ago, when hitters were more likely to put the ball in play and AL teams averaged 4.2 per 9. So if you want to do a currency conversion-type calculation, you could say that Bender's total would be worth 20 strikeouts today (this is meaningless, I know, but still fun)

After ten games, the A's are 4-6 and in 7th place in the 8-team AL. But the good news is they're only a half game out of fourth place, so there's hope for them to escape the lower division relatively soon. They're still 5 and 1/2 games out of first, and the Tigers are showing no signs of slowing down. They have two more games against the Senators before their big road trip. It's possible that they can get out of Philly with a .500 record****.

* Bob Groom, who twice led the American League in losses. He is, however, the owner of a no-hitter. And not only that, but one of his teammates no-hit those same White Sox the day before. It's the only time in MLB history that a team has been no-hit on consecutive days (though not consecutive games, as Groom's no-no came on the back end of a double-header). I like that Groom's granddaughter sponsors his baseball-reference.com page. Also, I have no idea where this turn of phrase, "perpendicular person" comes from.

** No clue on this one either.

*** Officially the Senators, this team was nicknamed the Nationals. This is despite the fact that they played in the American League, as it was common to nickname teams by the league they were in, especially in cities with two teams (hence the New York Americans or the Boston Americans for the Highlanders/Yankees and Red Sox, respectively).

**** Will they though? You'll have to wait and see, assuming you don't go off and look up the game results. Please don't, I'm trying to build a little suspense here with these 100-year-old events. I can tell you though that the Big Train himself, Walter Johnson, will have something to say for it, as he's scheduled to pitch for the Senators on the 28th as indicated in the cartoon by that fly-looking mascot (I believe it's a gnat for "Nationals")carrying the medicine bottle labeled "Dr. Walter Johnson, Reviving Drops".

Apr 25, 2011

Game 9

April 25, 1911
Washington 2, Athletics 11

Back home in Philadelphia, the Athletics deliver their first drubbing of the season, welcoming the Washington Senators to Shibe Park with an 11-2 laugher. Today was also the day that the Athletics raised their championship pennant celebrating their big 1910 win.

I found a great game account from the Washington Times (also the source of the above cartoon - click to enlarge it), and rather than me tell you what happened, I think I'll just quote it at length*:
What was it that Admiral Phillips said at the battle of Santiago when he looked from his ship at the poor Spaniards? It was about cheering and dying, wasn't it? Yes**. Well, the same thing might well have been said when "Malaria John" Coombs, aided and abetted by eight fiends from the lower regions mauled and mangled Jimmy McAleer's band of Nationals. The White Elephants had been saving themselves up at Boston in order to take revenge upon McAleer's team. They did. Ow! It hurt, too.

John Coombs was reported in the morning to be ill at his home in Kennebunkport, Me. Yes, he had lost thirty-five pounds In five weeks, was a very sick man, couldn't move, and all that kind of junk. So he walked into the box and gave the Nationals just three wee hits and one of those was a weary thing, born of error of judgment. Yes, Coombs is a sick man, but save us from such sick men on this trip.
"Long Tom" Hughes warmed up, and the fans decided that the battle was to be to the death. It was, too, and we quickly died. In the second Danny Murphy hooked the pill over the right field barrier, the ball bouncing up on to a piazza and into a window of a dwelling house. Then in the fourth Frank Baker repeated this stunt, lifting the pellet over that same fence.
For a thorough report of the rest of the game, the Times' game report (written by "SENATOR") is well worth a read. Since I would do no better than "Senator" recounting the game, I'll just offer a few of my own observations.
  • I know this all happened a hundred years ago, but it feels good to get a big win.

  • Would someone please tell me why we don't get cartoons in the paper recapping games anymore. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love the access to video replays and pitch-by-pitch accounts that we now have at our fingertips. But would it kill the Inquirer to throw together a cartoon like this every morning to give us the gist of things?

  • I was impressed that Matt Holliday came back so quickly from having his appendix removed, but here's Jack Coombs pitching a three-hitter with malaria. He lost 35 pounds in five weeks!

  • The box scores I've been seeing haven't all been complete, but I'm fairly sure these are the first two home runs that team has hit this season. They only hit 35 total on the year (remember, it's deadball). I believe A's pitchers also have yet to give up any homers.

  • I was impressed that the visiting Senators took part in the pre-game ceremonies of raising the A's championship pennant. They paraded out to the flagpole with their captain "waving an imaginary baton" as he led the bunch. Sportsmanship!
The A's are now 3-6, and most importantly of all, they're no longer in last place! They've jumped over the hapless St. Louis Browns and are in 7th place. I sense good things on the horizon for the Mack aggregation.

* In case you're wondering, I can do all of this, because it's all in the public domain now. I certainly don't intend to pass any of it off as my own, and all credit is due to the unnamed writer of the piece. I love this old writing, and just want people to be able to read it.

** A reference to the Spanish American War, of course. "Do not cheer," Phillips admonished his victorious sailors, "men are dying."

Today's source from the Washington Times, via the Library of Congress: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026749/1911-04-26/ed-1/seq-15/;words=Mack+Connie

Apr 24, 2011

Game 8

April 24, 1911 Philadelphia 5, Boston 1

Philadelphia 0 0 0
3 0 0
1 1 0 -- 5 11 1
Boston 0 0 0
0 0 0
0 1 0 -- 1 4 2

After eight games, the A's finally collect win number two. How do they do it? By turning to the same starter who got them their first win: Eddie Plank. After shutting out Boston in his last game, Plank holds them to one run and four hits today. In acknowledgment of his terrific pitching, his teammates oblige him with some actual offense, scoring five runs for just the second time this season.

Two walks and three hits netted them three runs in the fourth, and that was all the offense they'd need behind Plank's efficient work.

Eddie Collins has his second 3-for-4 game in a row, including a triple and a stolen base today.

Also, it seems to me that the eminent Messrs. Egan and Evans have umpired all 8 games of the season so far. I wonder when they'll start seeing some fresh faces behind home and at first base.

So the A's get out of Boston avoiding the sweep and head back to Philadelphia, still in last place, for a quick four-game home stand against Walter Johnson and the Washington Senators.

It would behoove the 2-6 A's to shed their losing ways and start collecting wins from pitchers not named Eddie Plank, as the series against Washington is followed by a grueling 22-game road trip that will see them spending nearly a month in enemy parks.

But for tomorrow, they can focus on more celebratory moments, as they will be honoring the achievements of the 1910 squad by raising the championship pennant.

Apr 22, 2011

Game 7

April 22, 1911
Philadelphia 3, Boston 4

The A's go down for the third straight game to the Red Sox, but at least this time it's a more respectable score. This game went to extras, with the Bostons pulling out the win in the bottom of the 10th. Vermonter Ray Collins took the hill for Boston against Harry Krause (left).

I won't bother with the box score in this game, because the one I found is too blurry to make out. But it was clear enough for me to see that there were two silver linings for the A's today. First, Eddie Collins went 3 for 4, and it's always nice to see one of your stars have a good game.

And second, this was the first game of the season in which the Athletics didn't commit a fielding error. During the early days of baseball, errors were a much bigger part of the game. AL teams averaged 302 for the season, or just under 2 per game (154-game season). So an error-free outing is a nice occurrence. Contrast that to today, when each team averaged 101 errors in 2010, or about .62 per game.

As for the 1911 A's, they only committed 228 errors, which was by far the best in the American League. Of course, detailed fielding statistics other than errors are lacking for this era, and we know that assigning errors can be unreliable, but you've got to assume that this is a big reason they gave up the fewest runs in the AL.

Now the A's had two HOF pitchers anchoring their rotation, so that goes a long way towards keeping the other team from scoring. But that low error total is really the only evidence we have of their defense, and we know how important defense can be (especially if you've got a good one in an era when 2 errors a game was the norm). Maybe if we all pool our money, we can send John Dewan back in time to figure out how many runs the A's defense prevented.

Well, all I can say is it would have been nice if they had prevented two more runs today and come away with the win. 1-6 is no way to start a season when you're trying to repeat as champs.

Apr 21, 2011

Game 6

April 21, 1911
Philadelphia 4, Boston 13

Philadelphia 0 0 0
0 0 2
2 0 0 -- 4 8 4
Boston 1 3 1
0 5 0
2 1 x -- 13 17 2

The Athletics played their first road game of the year at Boston's Huntington Avenue Grounds (above)* to distressingly similar results to their last home game, giving up 13 runs to the Red Sox for their fifth loss of the young season.

The Red Sox teed off against the A's for 17 hits, with every member of their lineup collecting at least one. HOFer Tris Speaker (who, it turns out, was very good at baseball**) went 3-4.

Jack Coombs started for the A's, but only lasted two innings thanks to his case of malaria, an affliction seldom experienced by today's big leaguers. He left the team to recuperate at his home in Maine. Lefty Russell*** replaced him on the mound and, while blessedly malaria-free, he didn't fare much better against Boston's lineup in his six innings of relief. Eddie Cicotte, later notable as a member of the Black Sox, got the win for Boston.

Now just 1-5, the team was hurt by poor hitting and inconsistent pitching and, from some of the accounts I've seen, costly fielding errors. As far as hitting goes, according to Francis Richter of Sporting Life, "Murphy, Collins, and Lapp are hitting the ball best for the Athletics. Men whose eyes are not set right yet are Baker, Davis, Barry, and Oldring." Another explanation came from Mack himself (from Richter's account): "Manager Mack, of the Athletics, is quoted as saying that one reason for the Athletics slump is "too many bridegrooms" and that "being one himself he doesn't know how to handle the case." Mack married his second wife (he was a widow) shortly after the team's victory in the 1910 World Series.

But with such a poor start, you've got to figure that A's fans were starting to get frustrated. Here's an item from that same issue of Sporting Life:
The "Record" voices the general sense of all competent local critics of the game when it says: "the well-balanced Athletic team should be stronger than ever once the men get going right. The weight of World's Championship honors possibly rests heavily on the minds of some of the men and the new benedicts**** naturally take less kindly to hard work than they did of yore. But all of them will come around in time."
I get the sense from the reference to "competent critics" that there was probably significant grumbling about the team's start by certain members of the press. I guess some things about baseball in 1911 weren't all that different from today.

Well, I'll count myself among the competent critics by stating that I feel this team will come around, and the hitters will begin to set their eyes right soon.

* Featuring a 635 foot (!) center field that included a tool shed that was in play. 1912 would be the first year of Fenway Park. I'd say a tool shed is much more interesting than a big green wall as a quirky ball park feature.

**.325/.428/.500 on his career with a whopping 133.0 WAR and 792 doubles, the most of all time.

*** A pitcher whose
baseball-reference.com page is delightfully sponsored by a Suzuki extended warranty website. Francis Richter of Sporting Life magazine reports that he was a highly-touted minor leaguer and that "no pitcher in the country has anything on 'Lefty' Russell in holding a base runner on the bag." That may have been so, but his inability to get anyone out made his career a short one.

**** I had to look this up; it means newly married man. I guess the Record agrees with Connie Mack on that count.

Richter's relevant column

Apr 19, 2011

Travel Day

April 19, 1911

The A's are on their way up to Boston, so no game today. In fact, the elements will conspire to push their next game back to the 21st, so we've got a few days to wait to see if the Athletics can avenge their blowout and get their second win. Let's see what else is going on around baseball in the mean time, shall we?

Over in the Senior Circuit, the first-place Phillies are already up in Boston, sweeping a doubleheader today against the Rustlers*. In the second game, Future HOFer Pete Alexander made his second big league appearance (4.2 IP, 4 Runs) and collected his first win**. He'll get 372 more of them by the time he's finished.

Alexander finished 1911 with an MLB-leading 28 wins, the most for a rookie in the modern era. He ended up 3rd in the first ever MVP voting (then called the Chalmers Award), and if the Cy Young Award had existed in 1911, it would have been a tight race between Ol' Pete and the Giants' Christy Mathewson.

It's hard to overstate how good he was in his years with the Phillies***, before epilepsy, alcohol, and shell-shock from World War I diminished his greatness in his 30s (though mind you, he was still pitching well above average for his entire 20-year career - his lowest ERA+ for a full season was 113, and he's fifth overall among pitchers in career WAR and tied for third with Mathewson in wins).

Alexander's life and career were fascinating and tragic, and his bio over at the Baseball Biography Project is a great read.

Only two other games were played today****. The Giants beat the Brooklyn Superbas 4-3 at the Yankees' Hilltop Park, which the Giants were renting while the Polo Grounds were being repaired after an April 14th fire. In the AL, the White Sox beat the St. Louis Browns, 6-3. The Tigers (inactive today, 5-0) are the only undefeated team in baseball and are one game up on the Yankees and four up on the A's.

* The team played under this nickname only in 1911. They started life as the Red Caps, then spent 23 years as the Beaneaters, then a few as the Doves. In 1912, they'd become the Braves, a name which stuck with them through moves to Milwaukee and then Atlanta. To give you an idea of how bad the Rustlers were in 1911, their best player, infielder Bill Sweeney, only managed to put together a team-high 2.3 WAR, a total that Matt Kemp (currently 1.5 WAR) is on pace to reach next Wednesday. This goes a long way towards explaining the Rustlers' eventual .291 winning percentage.

** Apparently his debut with the Phillies came in one of the pre-season exhibition games against the A's, but he's not mentioned in either of the box scores I found. I know there are other games though, but I thought they happened later. Hmmm...

*** From 1911-1917 he went 190-88 with a 2.12 ERA and averaged 6.7 WAR per season. During those seven seasons he led the league in wins five times, in innings pitched six times, in strikeouts five times, in shutouts five times, and captured the Triple Crown three times. All this while pitching half his games in the Baker Bowl, a notorious hitters' park (278 feet to right field).

**** I guess you get days like this when the leagues only have 8 teams each and they have to take lots of days off for train travel.

Apr 18, 2011

Game 5

April 18, 1911
Boston 13, Philadelphia 5

Boston 0 0 0
0 0 0
8 0 5 -- 13 10 0
Philadelphia 1 0 0
? 0 0
0 ? 0 -- 5 9 4

The A's follow up their first win of the season by getting blown out by the Red Sox. And it was an ugly loss, as the A's pitchers* surrendered more runs than in their previous games combined. And to make it even worse, this was our boys' best offensive performance of the young season so far.

Connie Mack sent Ohioan Cy Morgan to the mound for his first start of the year. No doubt he was hoping that Morgan would repeat his success of 1910, during which he won 18 games and posted a tidy 1.55 ERA (153 ERA+)**. The box score I found is especially blurry, so I could be wrong, but it looks like it was the 7th inning that really did him in, as the Red Sox took the lead with a flurry of scoring. Though those 8 runs would be enough for the win, the Sox piled on for five more in the top of the 9th, when pitcher Allan Collamore was sent out for the second and final inning of his abbreviated rookie season***. Smoky Joe Wood got the start for the visitors****.

A double header was on the schedule, but the teams were only able to play one game thanks to wet field conditions.

Thus ends the first home stand for the A's, and not a pretty one at that. Let's hope a change of scenery on the road will brighten the outlook for Mack's boys. The next series is against these very same Red Sox up in Boston.

We're now a full week into the 1911 season, so let's check in and see how things stand in the American League:

Team Name                        G    W    L    T   PCT    GB    RS   RA
Detroit Tigers 5 5 0 0 1.000 - 22 5
New York Highlanders 5 4 1 0 .800 1.0 18 11
Washington Senators 5 3 2 0 .600 2.0 18 19
Boston Red Sox 5 2 3 0 .400 3.0 26 19
Chicago White Sox 5 2 3 0 .400 3.0 17 13
St. Louis Browns 6 2 4 0 .333 3.5 24 33
Cleveland Naps 6 2 4 0 .333 3.5 21 33
Philadelphia Athletics 5 1 4 0 .200 4.0 12 25
So today we have a rain-out of half a double header, some squandered offense, a blowout loss, and now sole possession of last place in the league. A's fans just need to shake their head, acknowledge that, hey, that's just baseball, and hope that the next game turns out better.

* and defense - 4 errors, ouch.

** despite leading the league in walks and hit-by-pitch. It's a lot easier to keep your ERA low when you don't give up any home runs during a season, which was relatively common for deadball-era pitchers. Morgan didn't get a chance to pitch in the '10 World Series, as Connie Mack only used two pitchers against the Giants. That's right, two.

*** Though he was done with the A's, he'd resurface two years later to pitch two seasons for Cleveland.

**** Wood was developing into a pretty solid pitcher before a broken thumb got in the way. After pitching through a few years of pain, he was sold to Cleveland where he became the teens' answer to Rick Ankiel, making the transition to outfield (Wood put up 5.6 WAR in 6 seasons as an outfielder, while Ankiel has so far posted 4.7 WAR in his first 5 seasons since his comeback). It was thought that Smoky Joe had a chance to become one of the all-time greats if the injury hadn't destroyed his pitching career. Today, the Connecticut chapter of SABR is named after him.

Apr 17, 2011

Game 4 - We Win!

April 17, 1911
Boston 0, Philadelphia 1

Boston 0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0 -- 0 7 0
Philadelphia 0 1 0
0 0 0
0 0 x -- 1 8? 2

At last a win! The Athletics finally get the monkey off their back by toppling the visiting Boston Red Sox in a 1-0 contest at Shibe Park. HOFer Eddie Plank gets his first start of the season and throws a real gem - a 7-hit complete game shutout. Plank (see previous post) will end up having a really nice year for the A's, and this won't be his last shutout. The Red Sox countered with Ed Karger, a 28-year-old in the last year of a relatively short career. It looks like he pitched well, but the A's put together just enough offense to back Plank's handiwork. The A's aren't setting the world on fire yet, but at least they finally get rid of that goose egg in the W column.

At the end of play, the Red Sox and A's are sporting identical 1-3 records, so tomorrow's game will be a battle to avoid last place in the American League.

The good news is I joined SABR, which gives me access to, among other things, the entire archives of the Sporting News, which printed box scores for every major league game. The bad news is they're grainy as hell, so they won't be quite as useful as previous documents I've found. I'm still on the lookout for good sources of box scores and first-hand game accounts.

Apr 15, 2011

Eddie Plank - The Arm of the A's

P is for Plank,

The arm of the A's;

When he tangled with Matty,

Games lasted for days.

-Ogden Nash, "Line-Up for Yesterday"

I'd like to get around to a closer look at most of the players on the team throughout the season, and since Eddie Plank is starting the next game against Boston, we might as well begin with him.

Nicknamed Gettysburg Eddie due to his hometown*, Plank made his debut in 1901, the Athletics' inaugural season. The 25-year-old lefty made his presence felt right off the bat, providing his new team with 4.4 WAR and 17 wins as a rookie. From then on, he was a consistently good pitcher for the next 17 seasons, 14 of which were with the A's.

View his full stats.

His career numbers aren't necessarily gaudy (he rarely led the league in any significant pitching categories), but they were always really solid. According to teammate and fellow HOFer Eddie Collins, "Plank was not the fastest, not the trickiest and not the possessor of the most stuff; but he was just the greatest." All told, he deserves a place among the pitching greats (and possibly one of the top 10 lefties). Here are a few cherry-picked stats showing where his career numbers place him on the all-time list in a few key categories:
  • WAR: 22nd for pitchers (5th among lefties) with 76.30
  • ERA: 21st (tied- also 6th among lefties) with 2.35**
  • Innings Pitched: 28th (5th among lefties) with 4,495.2
  • Complete Games: 16th (1st among lefties) with 410
  • Shutouts: 5th (1st among lefties) with 69
  • Strikeouts: 49th (17th among lefties) with 2,246
  • WHIP: 30th (6th among lefties) with 1.1189
  • Wins: 13th (3rd among lefties***) with 326. Now I don't put a lot of stock in pitcher wins, but you don't win 326 games without being awfully good, and I'm still impressed by big numbers. He was the first lefty to win 200 and then later 300 games, and he was the career wins leader in all of baseball for a few years until Walter Johnson**** passed him. He won 20 games or more 7 times. He still has the most wins for a lefty in the AL (305).
And lucky for us, 1911 was his best year. As a 35 year-old he posted the highest ERA+ (151) and highest WAR (6.1) of his career. He won 23 games with a 2.10 ERA. He also led the league in both shutouts (6) and saves (4 - though saves hadn't been invented yet). What's even more impressive is that it wasn't the least bit flukey: his BABIP was exactly the league average (though he did seem to have some good defense behind him, as his FIP was about half a run higher than his ERA). We'll be enjoying quite a lot of his starts this year.

Finally, I love that Nash's famous poem references his battles with Christy Matthewson. That's some good foreshadowing, as we'll be meeting those Giants in the World Series. Having played in separate leagues their entire careers, the two never met in the regular season. But their teams faced off in three different World Series: 1905, 1911, and 1913. They started three games against one another in those years. Matty won two of them, and Plank came away with one. None of them were high-scoring games, as you might guess. Nash was probably also referring to Plank's reputation for his long stalling pauses on the mound***** But did the games actually last days? Here are the game times for their three match-ups: 1:46, 2:22, 1:39.

* He served as a battlefield tour guide during the off-season.

** That's a great ERA, but his career neatly nestles in the timeline of the dead-ball era, which makes it slightly less impressive in retrospect. It's still good for a tie for 93rd in ERA+ with 122, which puts him in some good company with both Bob Feller and Babe Ruth.

*** Behind Warren Spahn and Steve Carlton.

**** Who would defeat him 1-0 in his final game, an 11-inning complete game, no less.

***** I guess that made him the deadball era's Jamie Moyer.

Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Plank

Game 3

April 15, 1911
Yankees 7, Athletics 4
-------------------......-..----..------------R H E
New York...... 0 0 0 0 2 0 2 0 0 3 - 7 13 2
Philadelphia.. 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 2 0 - 4 10 1

[click box score to enlarge]

After getting rained out the prior day, the A's fall to 0-3 with a sweep at the hands of the Yankees/Americans/Highlanders. This is the first game in which the Athletics were really able to do any hitting, putting together 10 hits today compared to just 3 and 5 in their first and second games. It wasn't enough to topple New York, though, which won in 10 innings and pulled out of Philadelphia tied with Detroit on top of the standings after the season's first series.

The NYT called the game a rout. The Yanks controlled most of the game, but a late rally by the home team tied it up in the bottom of the ninth to force the extra frame (thanks in part to a key error by player-manager Hal Chase, "the gingery leader of the invaders"). Mack called upon Allan Collamore to pitch the 10th (his major league debut). It was an introduction to big-league play that he'd have likely sooner forgotten, as the Yankees scored three easy runs, and after a 1-2-3 bottom of the 10th, they "galloped gleefully away."

So here we are three games into the season, and the defending champs, their team largely intact from the prior year, are winless. Was there much gnashing of teeth from the local fans? Despair over the meager offensive output, inconsistent pitching, and poorly timed fielding errors? Imagine the reaction from the Philadelphia fans if our highly touted Phillies this year came out of the gate 0-3*. Look at the coverage of this year's Red Sox after they were swept by Texas.

Well, I can't say if Philadelphians were hitting the panic button 100 years ago today; I can't seem to dig up any fan blogs from the time for some reason. But our friend Francis Richter didn't seem concerned after watching the A's struggle in their first series. "Worry over the matter is entirely misplaced," he assured readers of his "Quaker Quips" column. "The Athletics, always slow starters, have the power and ability to push their way to the front in due time, and will be out in front, fresh and strong, when the race begins to tell upon their competitors."

That's the kind of pragmatism and level-headedness I like to see from my sports writers. It makes you feel a lot better about the team's prospects, no?

A few other observations:
  • I can't find any mention of a New York "sweep" in either of the accounts of the series I unearthed. Could it be that the term hadn't been popularized yet?

  • Most modern fans wouldn't consider a 3-run win to be a rout. But this was the deadball era, and runs were much more at a premium**, so three runs was a big deal. Secondly, I think of a rout as a game in which one team dominated from beginning to end. The Yankees did lead 4-0 by the top of the seventh, but the A's came back to tie the game and force extra innings. It's tough to call a game that went to extra innings a rout unless the winning team piled on an absurd number of runs in extras.

  • This is the first extra-inning game of the season, and the first use of relief pitching by Connie Mack. Obviously, we'll be seeing a lot less of that than with modern teams. 97 of the A's 152 games were completed by the starting pitcher. Contrast that to today, in which Halladay and Lee the last two days were the first Phillies pitchers to complete back-to-back games in 12 years.

  • Poor Allan Collamore. After his disastrous debut, he'll only pitch one more inning for the Athletics this year. Spoiler alert: his next one is even worse. After that, he disappeared from baseball for two years before turning up for a couple of seasons with Cleveland.

  • The A's NL counterparts from 6 blocks down Lehigh Avenue were off to a better start, with, according to Richter, "two clean-cut victories over their ancient enemies and dearest foes, the New York Giants, on the grounds of the latter." If I had thought of the Giants as our ancient enemies, I would have been madder about losing the NLCS to them last year.

  • With the Yankees moving on, it's time to bid farewell for now to the excellent and readily available articles/box scores from the New York Times until the teams cross paths again. Hopefully I'll be able to keep finding good sources for game reports.
Next up, the Red Sox bring Smoky Joe Wood and HOFer Tris Speaker to town for a two game stand starting on the 17th.

* I mean, heck, I was at the third game of the season this year when the team was 2-0, and the yahoos behind me started booing Hamels in the first inning before he had even given up a single run. It seemed like the majority of the fans present followed two innings later when the visitors took a three-run lead. I'd like to think that the 1911 fans were a bit more patient and knowledgeable about how the game of baseball actually works.

** That's true for the general era, but oddly enough, the AL offense of 1911 was roughly on par with 2010 - about four and a half runs per team per game. This represents the leading edge of a short mid-deadball-era spike in scoring. The prior year, AL teams scored about a run fewer per game. This jump will merit a closer look at some point during the season.

Apr 14, 2011

"Henceforth there will be no surcease for base ball until next October"

The Local Championship Series

Long before interleague play became a yearly annoyance to hard-core baseball purists, the Phillies and Athletics played an annual 8-game series of exhibition games. The first two took place prior to the season opener, and I was lucky enough to turn up box scores.

April 1, 1911

The World Champs take the first game of the series, 8-4, in front of 6,000 spectators at the Phillies' Baker Bowl.

April 3, 1911

The Phillies strike back two days later to take the second game, 5-1.

They'll play six more games throughout the year - hopefully I'll be able to find more information as they come up. These box scores come from the "Quaker Quips" column by Francis Richter in Sporting Life magazine. I think this column is going to be a great source for this project.

Richter was optimistic about the upcoming season:
The base ball season of 1911 in this city was inaugurated on Saturday, when the Athletics and Phillies played their first game for the local championship; and henceforth there will be no surcease for base ball until next October, when if local hopes are entirely fulfilled, the battle for the World's Championship will be wholly confined to this grand old base ball town.
Will his hopes be fulfilled? We'll have to wait and see*.

* No, of course they won't; we know that already.

Rain Out

April 14, 1911

After two straight losses to the Yankees, the Athletics get an off day due to rain to regroup. They'll come back tomorrow to try and avoid the sweep.

Apr 13, 2011

Game 2

April 13, 1911
Yankees 3, Athletics 1


The Athletics fall to 0-2 in the second game of the season. Can't seem to track down a box score or much info on this game, so let's look at the starters.

Ray "Pick" Fisher got the start for the Yankees and Jack Coombs took the hill for the A's. Both were New Englanders who attended colleges that often played each other - Middlebury (my brother's alma mater) for Fisher and Colby for Coombs. If you were to ignore their five-year age difference, it's fun to imagine them as college opponents as well. They'll end up facing each other once more in 1911.

Fisher had a funny up-and-down career, mostly with New York, ending up roughly a league-average pitcher* (106 career ERA+).

Coombs had a funny career as well. It's mostly average except for a ridiculously good year in 1910 in which he led all of baseball with 31 wins**. He posted a 1.30 ERA (182 ERA+...not too shabby) and led baseball with 13 shutouts. He also won three games for the Athletics in the 1910 World Series, the kind of things that gets you voted WS MVP these days***.

He promptly fell back to earth in 1911, though that year was odd in its own way. He did manage to once again lead all of baseball in wins, this time with 23, but he somehow managed to do so while leading both leagues in earned runs as well (132). Looking ahead, it's a safe bet that Coombs will get some decent run support for the rest of the season. Stay tuned for future starts.

Both men later became college coaches and ended up with college fields named after them (University of Michigan for Fisher and Colby and Duke for Coombs). Fisher's wikipedia page is a pretty good read; the man led an interesting life. He holds the distinction of being one of the 17 grandfathered spitballers as well as one of the few ball players to be reinstated to baseball after a lifetime ban (so there's hope for Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe yet). He also coached Gerald Ford in football and, in probably his most significant contribution to Philadelphia baseball, mentored HOF pitcher Robin Roberts.

* In what was probably his best year (1915), he had the ignominious distinction of giving up the most home runs in the AL. A whopping 7, can you believe it?

** Look at his bWAR for the 1908 through the 1912 season: 1.3, 2.8, 9.2, 2.1, 1.5.... that's quite a bell curve.

*** Though this feat has only happened once since 1968 (by Randy Johnson, who collected his third win in 2001 as a reliever in Game 7), it was downright common in the early days of baseball. Coombs was the fifth pitcher to win three games in a World Series, and he played in the 7th one (though the first two to do it did so when the WS was a best of nine series).


I got the NYT search feature working again (had trouble with it last night) and dug up a box score for the game:

As it turns out, "The Chase [Yankee's manager] combination outplayed the Mack aggregation at every point and deserved the victory." Of course, this is the deadball era we're talking about, which means that rather than being a rout, we had a game that was tied 1-1 going into the 8th inning. During that frame, the visitors put together a double followed by a triple with a throwing error to seal the deal.

We're just two games in, but things are not starting off well for our heroes in the Mack aggregation.

Once again, the full account of the game is a great read.

Apr 12, 2011

Opening Day Then and Now

It was a lot of fun reading the account of 1911's opening day at Shibe Park from the following day's New York Times. Obviously, baseball was a very different game then, but the experience of opening day sounded both familiar and a little strange at times.

The Weather
Well, even with global warming, you didn't expect early April weather to change that much in 100 years, did you? In 1911, "it was a cold, bleak, unseasonal day for the National sport." I've been lucky enough to attend more than my share of home openers in Philadelphia, and for about 93% of them, the weather has been some combination of cold, bleak, and unseasonal, despite the perfect image of bright sunshine and green grass that all baseball fans hold in their head for opening day.

Baseball teams and fans loved America then, and they love it now. Every Phillies opener in recent memory has featured a giant American flag that covers most of the outfield during the national anthem, along with some sort of military representation (like a color guard or flyover). It's nice, but I think I prefer the previous century's version:

Promptly at 2:30 Kendle's First Regiment Band formed four abreast at the plate and started for the flag pole. Both teams, twenty-one in each squad, assembled in company front at the plate and followed the playing band across the field. The big crowd stood on its feet and cheered frantically as the procession moved to extreme centre field. The flag-raising was of short duration*.

There was not a hitch in the arrangements. When the two teams arrived at the flag pole, Capts. Davis and Chase stepped from the ranks and seized the long halyards. Firmly and steadily they drew the bunting to the top of the tall shaft, when by a quick and dexterous jerk, Chase unloosened the Stars and Stripes to the stiff southeast breeze, and while the band played the "Star-Spangled Banner" hundreds of diminutive flags fell from the mother flag. The crowd jumped to its feet and uncovered and sang to the accompaniment of the band. Then the band and teams returned to the shadow of the grand stand. Again, the players received the plaudits of the assembled thousands.
Presentation of Awards
Second baseman Eddie Collins, "champion base runner of the American League," was presented with an automobile. They still give out cars as awards to players today, but they're generally some GM car (MLB sponsors) given at a world series or all-star game to an MVP. After a brief speech from Collins, "the machine was sent on a trial spin around the field."

First Pitch
In 1911, "Director of Public Safety Clay," who had previously presented Collins with his car, threw out the ceremonial first pitch from the owner's box in the upper pavilion. He threw it to the umpire, who delivered it to the starting pitcher for game use (in Washington that same day, President Taft threw out the first pitch; he was the first president to do so). These days, of course, first pitches are thrown from the field by either a team legend, celebrity, or local honoree. They keep the ball, which is never used in the game.

18,000 fans "witnessed the game" on opening day in 1911 (Shibe Park at the time held about 20,000). Over 45,000 fans filled Citizens Bank Park for this year's Phillies opener. The article doesn't specify, but no doubt the 1911 fans were more nattily dressed, as more formal clothes at the game were very much in vogue, and major league baseball had not yet invented merchandising.

Philadelphia Baseball Fans
They're the greatest in the world now, and it sounds like they were a stand-up bunch a century ago. Despite the miserable weather, "the attendance was a personal tribute to the holders of the world's title and a testimonial to the affection with which the great pastime is held by the average American."

* I'm glad the writer included this detail, because I was wondering if it took a long time to raise the flag. I don't want to seem too sarcastic, though, because I really do love this vintage sports writing.

Opening Day

April 12, 1911
Yankees 2, Athletics 1

100 years ago today the Philadelphia Athletics opened their season at Shibe Park against the visiting Yankees*. The Athletics were coming off a World Series win against the Cubs and looking to become the second team to repeat as champs in the short history of World Series play.

New York....... 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 - 2 7 3
Philadelphia... 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 - 1 3 3

Here's the rest of the box score as clipped from the New York Times of the following day:

The Yankees would win the day with Hippo Vaughn out-pitching future Hall-of-Famer Chief Bender to a 2-1 final. Bender was at the peak of his powers after having won 23 games the previous year and leading the AL in win percentage (he also threw a no-hitter and posted an ERA+ of 150 that year - the highest of his career). Vaughn, a 6'4'' 215-pounder (hence the hippopotamine nickname), was coming off of a terrific rookie year. He'd go on to pitch a few mediocre seasons for New York before finding success with the Cubs**

Indulge me as I quote at length from the NYT's account of the game from the next morning's paper:
The New York Americans, heralded as the most dangerous team to prevent the present world's champions from repeating their brilliant conquest of last year, were victors over the Athletics in the first championship battle of the year at Shibe Park to-day by a score of 2 to 1. Eighteen thousand persons witnessed the game. It was a cold, bleak, unseasonal day for the National sport, and the attendance was a personal tribute to the holders of the world's title and a testimonial to the affection with which the great pastime is held by the average American.

There was nothing to indicate that the Athletics were world's champions for 1911***. Not a sign or a signal indicated that they represented the best in the baseball world, had won its blue-ribboned title, yet they were playing their first contest under their official title of winners of the world's pennant. Another day, later in the season, fitting ceremonies will celebrate their historical conquest of the snapping and snarling Cubs of Chicago.
Lovers of vintage sports journalism are highly encouraged to peruse the entire account of the game.

Despite their lackluster offense, A's fans could take solace in the excellent pitching of Chief Bender, as, according to the Times, "the Indian's performance would have yielded victory nine times out of ten, but he was unfortunate in opposing a youngster whose work was little less than remarkable." And no, they weren't confusing him with a pitcher from Cleveland (after all, they didn't adopt that name until four years later; they were still the Naps), that's just how a newspaper in 1911 would casually reference Bender's Ojibwa ancestry.****

While this pitchers' duel didn't end in the Athletics' favor, brighter things were ahead of them as they geared up to defend their title later that fall.

But all that was still a long ways away. There were still 150 games to play, the A's were 0-1, and they'd dig themselves into an even deeper hole by the end of the season's first week. For now it was just springtime in Philadelphia, and the season was anyone's for the taking.

* The Yankees were still officially the New York Highlanders at the time. They were more commonly known by fans and the press either as the New York Americans (to distinguish them from the Giants of the Senior Circuit) or the Yankees. The team officially adopted the Yankees moniker in 1913.

**Vaughn's best year came in 1918 when he led the NL in wins, ERA, shutouts, innings pitched, WHIP, hits/9, and strikeouts/9. Too bad the Cy Young Award didn't exist then. On a game against the visiting Reds the prior year, he threw nine innings of no-hit ball. The problem was, so did the opposing pitcher, Fred Toney. Vaughn gave up a run in the top of the tenth to lose the "double no-hitter" to Toney, who continued his hitless streak to close out the bottom of the tenth. Vaughn ended his career 178-137 with a 2.49 ERA.

*** Foreshadowing!

**** Charles Albert "Chief" Bender was one of the more fascinating figures of early 20th century baseball and a major key to this team's success; as such we'll be talking about him a lot over the next few months. After his playing career ended, he remained a part of the Athletics organization in various capacities until a few years before his death. He's buried just a few blocks from the house I grew up in.