May 27, 2011

It's Memorial Day

There are some exciting games coming up, but who cares when it's a three-day weekend. I'll be back playing catch-up next week.

May 25, 2011

Game 34 - Heading Home

May 25, 1911
Philadelphia 12, Cleveland 6

And with that, the A's atone for their six-game losing streak with six straight wins. Cleveland really didn't put up much of a fight (though to be fair their best players sat out the last three games); Philadelphia outscored them 39-11 over four games for the sweep.

This also puts an end to the grueling month-long road trip. They've gone 14-8, which is impressive considering the dire six-game stretch against Chicago and Detroit. They left Philadelphia back in April as a 5-7 team in sixth place, and now they're in sole possession of second place*, so this trip tested their mettle and showed that they really were a legitimate team. Connie Mack's belief that the team's slow start was nothing to worry about (in fact he expected it even before the season) may well prove accurate.

They're back home for the next 22 games, and will certainly be looking to make up ground on their Western rivals. Here are the standings as of today:

Team Name                 G    W    L    T   PCT    GB    RS   RA
Detroit Tigers 38 29 9 0 .763 - 228 170
PHILADELPHIA ATHLETICS 34 19 15 0 .559 8.0 217 165
Chicago White Sox 33 17 15 1 .531 9.0 177 135
Boston Red Sox 34 18 16 0 .529 9.0 170 143
New York Highlanders 33 17 16 0 .515 9.5 131 154
Cleveland Naps 39 16 22 1 .421 13.0 180 203
Washington Senators 34 12 22 0 .353 15.0 126 204
St. Louis Browns 37 12 25 0 .324 16.5 146 201

* While jumping from sixth to second is undoubtedly a good thing, they're actually farther back in the standings thanks to the continued dominance of the Tigers; they lost 1.5 games on Detroit since April 28th.

May 24, 2011

Game 33 - Another Drubbing of the Naps

May 24, 1911
Philadelphia 9, Cleveland 1

In what must have felt to the home team like a nightmarish replay of yesterday’s game, the Athletics ran roughshod over a depleted Naps lineup to the tune of 9-1.

Coombs rebounded from his back-to-back poor starts (not to mention his concussion) and pitched 9 innings of 6-hit ball. He struck out five, but he also gave up the same number of free passes (Coombs has been having trouble with walks so far this season, though he’s always walked slightly more batters than average).

Home Run Baker* went 5-for-5 with two doubles and a triple. Eddie Collins had a rare off day at the plate, going 0-5. He’s still second in the league in hitting with a .428 average (behind McInnis of course, who’s still out of the lineup today). Here’s a note about his hitting style from Sporting Life:

Cleveland critics say that “it’s a wonder that Eddie Collins, of the Athletics, isn’t a nervous wreck. He is never still when at the plate. He twitches, shrugs his shoulders, swings his bat, changes his weight from one foot to the other, and does other stunts that are noticed only in nervous people.” There may be method in his apparent nervousness!

That sounds like a lot of modern players I can think of. Good thing they didn’t wear batting gloves back then, or constantly adjusting them could have added one more tic to Collins’s repertoire.

There’s some additional intrigue to this series, as rumors have been swirling all season that Cleveland was looking to snatch the Athletics’ captain and long-serving first baseman Harry Davis away to serve as manager. Now Davis is only hitting a paltry .220 (as of tomorrow), and he’ll turn 37 in July. So managing must be looking like a pretty attractive way to continue making an impact in the baseball world. Mack and Davis addressed the rumors to Sporting Life, thoroughly denying that any such move would happen this season, though Davis expressed interest in taking up the position next season, and the unnamed reporter considered it a fait accompli that it would happen eventually**:

The large reason why Davis was not permitted to go to Cleveland by Manager Mack lies in the fact that there is nobody to fill his shoes at first sack. In addition, he wants to round out his playing career in his native city, and under certain conditions this will probably be his last year as an active participant in the game. Captain Davis was perfectly frank in admitting that the proposition of managing the Naps could be made attractive enough to have him accept. But he could consider no change this season at least.

Davis’s game is deteriorating rapidly though, so Mack might have to get creative to find an option at first base. We’ll see how this plays out as the season progresses.

* Standard disclaimer applies: he hadn't earned that nickname yet, but I'll use it anyway, because it's awesome.

** Davis did end up managing the Naps in 1912. His brief tenure was marked by adversarial relationships with the press, fans, and even players. He resigned before the end of his first season with the club in 6th place. He ended up returning to Philadelphia as a player-coach under Mack.

[Today's sources: and box score:]

May 23, 2011

Game 32 - "For a has-been, Eddie Plank is a wonder"

May 23, 1911
Philadelphia 9, Cleveland 1

Today Cleveland fields a lineup that’s missing all of their good players, and predictable results ensue. From Sporting Life: “Demott was knocked out of the box, while Mitchell, who succeeded him, was wild. Plank was effective throughout. The Cleveland team presented a crippled line-up with Lajoie, Turner, Griggs, and Jackson out of the game, necessitating the playing of a pitcher in centre field.”

The Toledo News quipped, "For a has-been, Eddie Plank has been a wonder." Not sure where this reputation came from, as he's been consistently good (even though he is no longer pitching at his peak) up through his mid-30s. His W-L record had been down the last few years, despite good ERAs and peripheral stats, and in those days, pitcher records were pretty much the beginning and end of the conversation, so I guess that's where it comes from.

Since returning to the lineup as a regular five games ago, Bris Lord, “the Human Eyeball”, has gone 12-for-21, including a 4-for-5 game with three runs today (there’s a typo in the box score as both Lord and Baker are listed as “3b.” Lord should be listed as the left fielder).

The Mackmen have won their last four by margins of 2, 4, 6, and today 8 runs since dropping six straight games against the White Sox and Tigers. They’re starting to look like a championship team again.

Even better, with today’s win, they jump into second place in the AL. Ok, so it’s a three-way tie with the White Sox and Red Sox, but it’s the highest they’ve been in the standings all season. They’re 9 games behind the Tigers. They play two more against the Naps before returning to Philadelphia.

[Today's Source:]

May 22, 2011

Game 31 - Back Above .500

May 22, 1911
Philadelphia 9, Cleveland 3

The A’s take the first of a four-game series against Cleveland, a team whose entire identity is closely tied to the two Philadelphia teams. We’re still a few years away from them adopting the “Indians” name; they’re officially called the Naps, and it’s all thanks to a fight between the Phillies and the A’s.

Back in 1900, Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie (also known widely as Larry) was a 25-year-old second baseman with the Phillies who was developing as one of the league’s stars (he had hit .345/.374/.520 in five seasons). Then in 1901 Ban Johnson transformed the Western League into a new major league – the American. Promise of higher salaries enticed many players to jump leagues. In those days long before Curt Flood, teams had complete control over players’ careers, so jumping leagues was the only way to control your own destiny.

Connie Mack and Ben Shibe scored a major coup for the junior circuit when they convinced the Phillies’ Lajoie, who was upset with the National League’s salary cap, to join their new Athletics. In his first year with the A’s, Lajoie hit .426/.463/.643 (his BA for that season remains the highest of the modern era), and helped establish the legitimacy of the new league and cultivate a fanbase for the upstart A’s.

Of course the Phillies were none too happy about this turn of events and sued to get their star back (Bill Hallman had replaced Lajoie at 2nd and put up decidedly inferior numbers: .184/.236/.236). A Pennsylvania court ruled that Lajoie was under contract and could not offer his services to any other baseball team, but a lawyer noticed that the ruling was only enforceable in that state. So rather than capitulate to the more established Phillies, Connie Mack traded Lajoie to the Cleveland Bluebirds, who were experiencing financial troubles and considering a move.

Lajoie’s arrival was a shot in the arm for the franchise and helped permanently establish them in Cleveland. They officially renamed the team the Naps in his honor. Unfortunately, Lajoie was forced to travel separately from the team, as he could not set foot in Pennsylvania lest he be subpoenaed, until the leagues made peace in 1903.

Coming into this game, the Naps were on a five-game win streak and one game behind the Athletics. About a month earlier, Sporting News published the cartoon to the right*, illustrating the worry that the team was unbalanced with too much reliance on the great Lajoie. This was especially true given the death of their ace pitcher Addie Joss at the beginning of the season to tubercular meningitis. But Naps fans needn’t have worried, as a new star was emerging (and another former Athletic), Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was at present hitting .371, 10th in the league.

But neither star was able to do enough to swing the game in the Naps’ favor. Lajoie himself went 1-4, and Jackson had to leave the game early having “had a finger split at bat,” which sounds terrible, though he did walk and score a run in the first. The A’s continued their nice rebound from their losing streak, putting nine runs on the board against Fritz Blanding.

Jack Barry was back in the lineup at short after having spent most of the season injured. Which was fortunate, because it seems as though Stuffy McInnis, who is currently leading the lead in BA, has been injured. Let’s hope he’s not out long, with the way he’s been raking the ball.

With today's win, the A's are back above .500 with a 16-15 record.

* The caption at the bottom is difficult to make out, but reads "Critics of the Cleveland team say it will never have the balance required to make it a winner while Napoleon Lajoie remains; he is so great that too much dependence is put upon him." It seems to me that what the cartoonist is advocating is getting rid of the team's best player (and namesake!) rather than building strong supporting players around him, which seems ludicrous. Look how well that worked out for that city's basketball team this year.

To be fair though, the team was incredibly unbalanced the prior year. The entire Cleveland offense put up 12.6 WAR. Lajoie had 9.6. As it happens, the cartoonist practically got his wish, as Lajoie was only able to play in 90 games. The result: one player on the Naps still put up the great majority of WAR, only this time it was Shoeless Joe Jackson (9.0 WAR out of 14.6).

[Today's sources: and Sporting News for the Lajoie cartoon]

May 21, 2011

Game 30 - Tigers Pitchers "Not Classy Enough"

May 21, 1911
Philadelphia 6, Detroit 2

Behind a terrific start by Harry Krause (9 IP, 4 hits), the A’s make it out of Detroit with a series split against the Tigers. After hemorrhaging runs for the last two weeks, it must have been a relief to give up only two against the first-place team.

In fact, after their losing streak and generally sluggish start, it must have been gratifying for the Mackmen to have taken two of four from the best team in baseball, who had been winning at an .833 clip prior to this series. Francis Richter of Sporting Life wrote that the strong play of the A’s, especially in today’s game, “compelled the Detroit critics to admit that the Athletics were playing the best ball of any team that had visited Detroit this season, and that the issue lay wholly between the Mack and Jennings teams.”

Tomorrow they’ll head to Cleveland for the final leg of their month-long road trip. The Naps are just one game behind the A’s, so a series win would be a great way to take it back to Philly.

To add spice to what was shaping up as a nice pennant race between the Tigers and A’s, Sporting Life reported, “Ty Cobb is again under Athletic suspicion because during the series in Detroit he slightly spiked Baker. They say that the illustrious Georgian is still a trifle careless about the way in which he flings his steel-shod feet about.” There was certainly no love lost between these two, and it wasn’t the first time such an incident had been reported. From Baker’s SABR Bio Project entry:

[During a 1907 series] Detroit superstar Ty Cobb spiked him in the forearm as Baker was attempting to tag Cobb out at third base. Frank had the wound wrapped and was able to stay in the game, but the play infuriated Mack, who went so far as to call Cobb the dirtiest player in baseball history. But a few days later, a photograph of the play taken by William Kuenzel of the Detroit News showed Baker reaching across the bag to tag Cobb, who was sliding away from the third baseman. The photograph vindicated Cobb, and led the Detroit Free Press to declare that Baker was a "soft-fleshed darling" for complaining about the play.
Well, here's the photo, and while Baker is indeed reaching in for the tag, all I can say is I don’t slide in my softball league with my foot that high off the ground.

Either way, Cobb certainly had a reputation for spiking infielders (there were many more accusations and incidents than these), and Baker had developed a reputation for being soft that stuck with him from that incident. Even today, once gained, such a reputation is almost impossible to shake, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary (just ask the meathead next to you at a bar in Philly about Cole Hamels).

I know I’m not the first to make this comparison, but I’d say it’s pretty fair to call Cobb the Barry Bonds of his era. First of all, they both loomed large over the game, and were easily the best players in baseball during their respective prime years; both Bonds and Cobb led all of baseball for many years in WAR and OPS+, among many other offensive categories. And both players could be moody, seemingly joyless, and unlovable. Most importantly, each had a single-minded focus not just on winning, but on being the best… and they were known to resort to certain, um…. unsavory means in order to achieve that.

Sporting Life had even more bulletin board material from the series: “The Athletic players do not regard the Detroit pitchers as classy enough to win a pennant with, and express the utmost confidence of beating out the Tigers.” I think this will be a fun race. And I’d love to see someone on the A’s today call out, say, the Rangers’ pitchers as not being “classy enough.” That would really show them.

[Today's sources: story -,

box score:]