May 20, 2011

Game 29 - The Human Eyeball Goes Yard

May 20, 1911
Philadelphia 14, Detroit 12

Yesterday, as you may recall, Colby Jack Coombs collapsed and was removed from the game after being struck in the side of the head with a baseball (a similar fate befell the Tigers' starter one inning later). We know today how serious these types of injuries can be, and even huge stars like noted Canadians Justin Morneau and Jason Bay were recently sidelined for long periods to protect them from further injury. Risks of post-concussion syndrome include chronic headaches, dizziness, and long-term neurological impairment, conditions that can be severely exacerbated by repeat trauma. "The worst thing you can do with a concussion," said Morneau, "is rush back to play."

I think we all know where this is going.

Yes, Coombs started today's game. Two pieces of good news: first, we know of no long-term ill-effects to Coombs from this risky behavior, and second, the A's won the game. By the way, I'm certainly not trying to imply that Coombs was tougher than his modern counterparts for starting the next game; they just didn't know what we know now*. Just because I'm going on and on about 100-year old ball games doesn't mean I think baseball was better or more pure or players were tougher back then. It was just a different game**.

The papers the next day reported that Coombs "was wild and erratic***." He gave up 10 hits and walked 6 in seven innings (on the other hand he went 4-for-4 with a stolen base). Coombs and his teammates followed up their 19 hits from yesterday with 16 today, only this time they didn't strand so many. They're continuing to allow far too many runs (averaging almost 7 a game since May 6th), but they were able to out-pummel the Tigers by just enough today to snap that 6-game losing streak.

Some highlights:
  • A's left fielder Bris Lord, nicknamed "The Human Eyeball" for some reason which I will decline to research for fear that it won't live up to my expectations, hit his first home run of the season. Though Lord was a mediocre batsman, Connie Mack called him an essential part of his pennant-winning teams, which just sounds defensive to me seeing as how he acquired Lord in a trade the prior year for a minor leaguer by the name of Joseph Jefferson Jackson.

  • This continues to be a dangerous series. Coombs broke promising young first baseman Del Gainer's wrist with a pitch in the first inning. He was hitting .368 at the time and has been a big part of the Tigers' offense. He'll be out until September.

  • The Tigers turned a triple play (their second of the season). In the top of the 6th, the A's were once again threatening with Collins aboard at second and Home Run Baker at first. Struggling first baseman Harry Davis "whacked a hard line shot to the 1B (Jack Ness) who snared the blazing pellet." Ness then stepped on first to double off Baker and threw to SS Donnie Bush to catch Collins (from the Philadelphia Inquirer via SABR's triple-play database).

  • Coombs (4-4) and Collins (3-5) were the hitting stars of the day for the A's, collecting 4 singles, a double, and a triple between them. We know already that Collins is a great hitter, but Coombs can swing a bat as well. He hit .319/.356/.418 in 1911.

  • We can't have a Tigers game without mentioning Ty Cobb. The Georgia Peach went 3-for-5 with two runs.
The A's have a chance to even the series tomorrow before heading to Cleveland.

* As a minor leaguer, Pete Alexander was beaned in the head trying to break up a double play. He was out cold for two days and suffered double vision for almost a year. He ended up having one of the great pitching careers of all time, but some folks these days suspect that this head injury might have led to the epilepsy (and indirectly the alcoholism) that made the second half of his life a living hell.

** Though many of the ball players of that era did feel that way as they got older, which is I suppose human nature. If the current MLBers aren't making comments to the press in 2060 about how they were tougher and the game was better back in 2011, I'll eat my hat. The Onion, as usual, said it best.

*** No surprise there I suppose. Now this is purely speculative, and I have no means to back this up. I said above that we don't know of any ill effects of the concussion. Coombs lived a long, and by all accounts happy, life. But look at his numbers. He had one of the best seasons of his era in 1910. It was right up there with Matty's or Pete Alexander's or Walter Johnson's best years. He won 31 games, including 13 shutouts, while putting up 9.2 WAR. But in 1911, his ERA jumped over two runs, and he surrendered the most hits and earned runs in baseball (yet thanks to the A's terrific offense and no doubt some good luck, he once again led the league in wins - yet another argument for the irrelevance of pitcher wins). And he never even came close to pitching like he did in 1910 - he never even got 3 WAR in another season. There's no doubt that lots of pitchers have fluke seasons, but could it be that the concussion in yesterday's game could have had something to do with his mediocre post-1910 career? Again, I have no basis for claiming this, I'm only asking the question based on the timing of him collapsing on the field after a head injury and his fall from glory (to be fair, he had been wildly inconsistent so far in 1911 even before yesterday, so we can't pin everything on what happened yesterday).

[Today's source:]


  1. Just found this blog, nice work. Your writing is very enjoyable. It's great to be reminded of players like Jim Death Valley Scott and Bris Lord.
    I believe he was called the human eyeball because of his freakishly large forehead.

    Kevin G.

  2. Thanks, Kevin, I'm glad you're enjoying it, and it's a lot of fun to write about this stuff. And I really do love these old nicknames I'm unearthing.