When the Phils Traded Grover Cleveland Alexander for Pickles

2163449614_9c8c923feb

Grover Cleveland Alexander. Note: Love the old Phillies warm up cardigans.

With the trade deadline coming up (and the Phils hopefully selling), I thought we’d look at a few terrible trades in team history. I’ve already covered a few, but I’m gonna cover a couple more and then make a list of the worst five trades in Phils history.

It’s just incredible how many times the Phils have been raked over the coals by the Cubs. There was the infamous Ryne Sandberg  trade, there was the awful Ferguson Jenkins trade, and just as awful as those two was when the Phillies traded away one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history to the Cubbies for a man named Pickles and a few bucks.

In 1915, Alexander established himself as a pitcher on the same level as Walter Johnson. His season is almost incomprehensible to the modern fan. He went an amazing 31-10 with an unbelievable 1.22 ERA. The next year he went 33-12 with a 1.55 ERA. In 1917, he went 30-13 with a 1.83 ERA. An incredible run of seasons, and Alexander had established himself as one of the greatest players in the game. So what did the Phils do? They traded him (and his highly regarded batterymate “Reindeer” Bill Killifer) for practically nothing.

They had their reasons. The US had just been dragged into World War I, and the Phils assumed Alexander would be drafted, so they traded him to the Cubs for Pickles Dillhoefer, Mike Prendergrast, and $55,000. Alexander did indeed get drafted by the Army, and fought on the front lines. The horrifying experience left him deaf in his left ear, injured his arm, left him with epilepsy, and caused him to drink heavily. Even so, he dominated for two years with the Cubs after the war, and remained a decent pitcher into the 1920s. However, his drinking became a major issue, and in 1925 the Cubs sent him off to the Cardinals. He was a World Series hero for the Cards in 1926, and had a few more decent seasons before hanging them up in 1930. He would win a total of 183 games after leaving the Phillies.

As for Pickles and Prendegrast? They were non-entities. Pickles would play a total of 8 games for the Phils, batting .091. Prendegrast would last just over a season, going 13-15, with a 3.20 ERA. And even worse than the trade itself, it kicked off an era in futility that has never been matched in pro sports, and probably never will be again. After finishing in 2nd place in 1917, they slipped to 6th place in 1918 without Alexander. They would fall to last place in 1919. It was a position they would get comfortable with…they finished last or next to last in 24 of the next 27 seasons. They finished over .500 in one of those 27 seasons. The Grover Cleveland trade started a freefall which continued downhill for the next generation. Pickles Dillhoefer  wouldn’t be around to see the downfall his trade to the Phillies hastened. He died of typhoid in 1922.

RELATED: The Urgent Telegram That May Have Cost the Phillies a Dynasty.


Five Steals in a Game? Eh, No Biggie. One Phillie Stole Seven

bhamilton99imper

Jacoby Ellsbury made an ass out of the Phillies last night, swiping five bags, and in the process setting a team record. It was also the most the Phillies have ever given up to one player in a game. But there is a Phillie who has done even better, and a member of the Philadelphia A’s who did better twice in a two week time frame!

One of the all-time great Phillies is Billy Hamilton, a member of the 1894 Phillies outfield that had 3 players (Hamilton, Ed Delahantey, and Sam Thompson) each hit over .400, and yet still finished 3rd in the NL.

On August 31, 1894, the Phils took on the hapless Washington Senators, on their way to a 11th place finish. Bill Wynne took the hill for his first (and last) Major League start. Behind the plate was back-up catcher Dan Dugdale. Hamilton made their lives a living hell, taking advantage of the inexperienced pitcher and a catcher whose career would be over a month later, and swiped seven bases (2nd base four times and 3rd base three times), still tied for an MLB record. The Phils won easily, 11-5. It was hardly an anomaly, as Hamilton would steal 100 on the season, leading the league. He would finish his career with 914 stolen bases, still good for 3rd all time after Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock. He’d end his career with a .344 batting average as well, and be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1961. His 7 steals in a game tie him with George Gore of the Chicago White Stockings, who did it in 1881.

Only 4 different players have stolen 6 bases in a game. Carl Crawford did it in 2009, Eric Young did it in 1996, and Otis Nixon did it in 1991. But remarkably, Philadelphia A’s superstar Eddie “Cocky” Collins did it twice…in 12 days! The first time was on September 11th, 1912, against the Detroit Tigers. On September 22nd, he did it again, this time against the Red Sox. He’d finish the season with 63 steals. Despite being the greatest 2nd baseman in Philadelphia baseball history, these days Collins is probably better known as the “honest” guy on the 1919 Black Sox.


The 1912 Phils and the Titanic

On September 20th, 2012, the Phillies scored 8 runs in the first inning against the New York Mets. Elias Sports Bureau said that the last time the Phils had scored that many in the first inning of a game on the road was 1912. I wanted to know who they were playing that day, so I hit up the one man on twitter who I thought would know: Reuben Frank, probably even more of a Philly sports history junkie than I am. Roob did not disappoint. He reported that the last time it happened was on April 15th, 1912, when the Phillies took on the Brooklyn Dodgers (also known as the Robins at that time) at Washington Park. It was the 4th game of the 1912 season, with neither team on its way to a particularly memorable season. But the Phillies 8-run explosion did happen on a very memorable day: At 2:20 a.m. that morning, the Titanic had sunk entirely beneath the waves. The sinking was in the newspaper that morning, but all that was known was that it had struck an iceburg. As the day went on, and reports continued to pour in, you have to think that the talk of the ballpark that day wasn’t the Phillies big first inning, but people spreading gossip and asking for updates. There were all sorts of crazy rumors going around New York that day, as some papers reported that the ship had been rescued and was being towed in and others reporting that it had sunk.

It was a big week for baseball as well. Five days after the Phillies 8-run inning, the Red Sox began play at their new stadium, Fenway Park. (Here is a spectacular panorama of Fenway taken two years after it opened.)

The Phillies would go on to win that game, 10-6. They would finish the season 73-79, 30.5 games behind the pennant winning New York Giants. The team contained a few of our old favorites, like Gavvy Cravath and Sherry Magee. They were led by player-manager Red Dooin, who claimed that to have introduced the shinguard to baseball, and featured pitching stars Lefty Alexander and the enigmatic Tom Seaton, who would be embroiled in controversy a year later.

Philly.com posted an awesome tribute to the 1912 Phillies here, with lots of photos. Well worth a look.


Frank “Home Run” Baker, Terrell Owens, and the Greatest Collapse in MLB History

The 2012 Phillies aren’t in the midst of the most spectacular collapse of a dynasty in Philly baseball history. That happened in 1915. The A’s were coming off four World Series appearances in five years, with victories in 3 of them. But success has it’s own price, and for Connie Mack, that was trying to keep his players paid. With so much success, the stars of the team were wanting major pay raises. Adding pressure to the problem were a couple of major developments. For one, the Federal League, baseball’s USFL more or less, was offering huge wads of money to MLB stars, many of whom played on the A’s. And Mack, coming off a season in which fans had become spoiled by success (The A’s were 5th in the AL in attendance in 1914 despite winning the pennant), became convinced that fans enjoyed watching a team try to get to the top more than seeing a team already there. He was also losing money to technology. The giant scoreboard the Philadelphia Record had erected across from City Hall was hurting him too (similar to this one at the New York Herald’s offices). Fans were showing up for free to “watch” the game on the board instead of paying to get into the ballpark. Finally, he believed his own hype, and thought that if he built this dynasty, why couldn’t he start from scratch and build another?

The dismantling began with Mack selling AL MVP Eddie Collins to the White Sox in December of 1914, reportedly for $50,000. (It was with Chicago that Collins is perhaps today best remembered for being the “clean” superstar on the 1919 Black Sox.) Collins was floored by the move, loved playing in Philly and for Mack, but the money Comiskey was offering was just too great to turn down.

The move was not met with derision in Philly or nationally, as most people considered it a smart move. As WA Phelon wrote in Baseball Magazine:

“It reduces the Athletics payroll, brings the needed cash, yet will not hurt the gate. Hence it’s a great thing for the Mackmen.”

He released the aging Jack Coombs, another hero of the 1911 World Series. Eddie Plank and Chief Bender, though both toward the end of their careers, jumped to the Federal League and the big paydays. Still, the team seemed to be pretty much intact. An aging but capable Nap Lajoie was brought back to town from the Indians to take over for Collins at second base. The three of the four members of the famous $100,000 Infield were still in place and the 4th piece had been replaced by a legend. The team would be fine. Except for one thing.


Third baseman and city legend Home Run Baker (above, left) was torn between returning to the A’s or retiring to his farm in Maryland.

At the team’s annual banquet in February of 1915, Mack dropped a bombshell, “I can’t say that I’ve had as good a time tonight I’ve had in years gone by at this banquet. I have given you a lot of surprises lately, but tonight I have a real surprise for you. Frank Baker wrote me a letter that he would not play for the Athletics the coming year. Frank has decided to quit the game for good.” The air went out of the banquet hall, and the annual jovial affair took on the air of a funeral reception. Mack continued on.

“He’s just sick of traveling and he wants to settle down for good on his Maryland farm. His wife has been at him for years to quit and it has been a tussle to make him sign each season…The boy isn’t dissastisfied. He doesn’t want more money, and he isn’t flighty.”

That was partly true. Collins was a country boy who loved his farm. But as he told a reporter that winter, “Every man has his price at which he is willing to work. I have mine. I am not stating what it is, but I will take it if it is offered. I will work for Connie Mack cheaper than I will work for anyone else. But I will not work for Mack or anyone else under the conditions as they are at present.”

Baker, a bonified superstar, could not be happy with the fact that he had signed a $6,666 per year contract a year before Collins had signed a $15,000 a year contract. And he certainly wasn’t pleased when Mack brought in the 40-year old Lajoie for $9,000. “I wish them all the luck in the world, but I have to look out for my own interests also.” At a time where the economy in the US wasn’t so hot, Baker’s holdout didn’t go over real well. Almost all of Philadelphia sided with Mack. Baker had signed a 3-year, $20,000 contract the year before, and now he was breaking it.

When the team reported to Jacksonville that March, Baker was nowhere in sight. Players wrote him. He wrote none of them back. Rumors began to swirl that he would be dealt to the Yankees. He said that he would play in New York, but he would play in Philadelphia for cheaper. It was beginning to look like exactly what TO would want from the Eagles 90 years later; a modest bump to the salary he had already signed, just to show respect for what he had given the team and the city. It’s worth noting that in both cases, fans in the city tended to side with management, since both players were so egregiously overpaid to begin with. And in both cases, the loss of the star player resulted in a team going from the championship game to an epic disaster. (Of course, TO would play a few games with the Eagles, while Baker didn’t play a single one.)

Baker met with Mack on Opening Day. He wasn’t reporting to the team, though you get the feeling that when he talked to Mack, he had to be hoping that the A’s leader was going to offer him a token raise and the problem would be solved. It wasn’t. Baker asked permission to opt out of his contract and play for a semi-pro team in Delco. The obstinate Mack granted him permission, so long as he didn’t play any games in Philadelphia. They had only months previous been the two undisputed kings of the city. Now they went their separate ways.

The A’s, without stars Collins and Baker, and with a young pitching staff that Mack had greatly overrated**, made a nosedive into the cellar of the AL. A year after winning 99-games and winning the AL by 8.5 games, they went 43-109, 58.5 games out of first place. The drop of 56-games is still a major league record. (The Phillies would have to go 8-66 for the rest of the season to break it.) Many fans of the A’s drifted 6 blocks west and started watching the exciting 1915 Phillies team, who would make their first ever World Series appearance that October.

Baker would play a year of summer league ball in Maryland, then Mack would sell his contract to the Yankees. He would play four years for them, though he never again duplicated his numbers from his Philadelphia days. The A’s meanwhile, wouldn’t recover from the Collins deal and the Baker fallout until the mid-1920s, when Mack would put together his second dynasty.

A lot of this info comes courtesy of the excellent books, “Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball” and “Connie Mack, The Turbulent and Triumphant Years“, both by Norman Macht.

**Hmm, losing two best players and overrating young pitchers. Sound familiar?


Celebration at the Bellevue

Interesting photo here of the Philadelphia A’s and prominent citizens of Philly celebrating their 1913 World Series win with an oyster dinner. SEems strange that the banner in the background says 1911, however. The Series was a rematch with the star crossed Giants, who had lost to the A’s in the 1911 World Series and who had lost to the Red Sox in 1912. The A’s would win again in 1913, 4 games to 1. You can see a photo from a recent event at the Bellevue from a similar angle below. Not much has changed in the past 99 years.


Rooftop Bleachers Outside Shibe Park

A few days ago, JGT posted a really interesting 1946 drawing of Shibe Park.  In keeping with a Shibe Park theme, I found this spectacular shot of fans during the 1914 World Series on shorpy.com. To see the photo in full size, click here.  You won’t be disappointed.

The remastered photo shows, in great detail, fans crowding the rooftop bleachers built by home owners along 20th Street outside Shibe Park.  These bleachers served as the inspiration for the “Rooftop Bleacher Section” at Citizens Bank Park.  The photo also shows, in great detail, just how poorly dressed fans are today.  Instead of having a cheesy 80s Retro Night, I say the Phils organize a “Back to the 1910s Night.”  I’ve been waiting for an occasion to break out my spats.

Although the fans along 20th Street may have had a nice view of the games, they didn’t go home pleased.  The A’s would lose this series to the “Miracle” Boston Braves in 4 games.

 


From the What-If Files: The Urgent Telegram that May Have Cost the Phillies a Dynasty

The funnest part about running this website is coming across crazy ass stories I’ve never heard of before, and odds are 99% of Philly has never heard of them either. This is one of those stories.

The 1913 Phillies were undoubtedly a team on the rise They went 88-63, finishing 2nd in the NL, though they were nowhere near the Giants, who won 101 games that year. Gavvy Cravath had a monster year for the Phils that year, hitting .341 with 19 Homers and 128 RBIs. (You can read more about good ol’ Gravvy, and the former MLB record he held, here.) Furthermore, they had a promising new ownership group, led by 42-year old President William Locke, who had served with distinction as a secretary in Pittsburgh for the Pirates for the previous ten years.

The pitching staff was led, of course, by Grover Cleveland Alexander. But there was a righty on the team who had a monster season, a guy I had never heard of until today, Tom Seaton. Seaton had a breakout year in 1913, going 27-12 that year with a 2.60 ERA, and he led the league with 168 strikeouts. Like Alexander, he had been born in Nebraska in 1887, and the city must have been thrilled by the prospect of the two young cornhuskers leading the previously moribund Phillies to the Series many times in the years to come.

It was not to be. On August 7th, Seaton took the hill in Chicago to pitch against the Cubs. Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, his wife Rene was going into a difficult labor, and both her health and the health of the baby were in doubt. An urgent telegram was sent to the Phillies. What happened next is in dispute. Seaton claimed that he was never given the telegram until after the game. Phillies manager Red Dooin claimed that he gave the telegram to Seaton before the game but that Seaton wanted to pitch anyway and leave afterwards. Regardless, by the time he arrived in Philadelphia, his newborn was dead and his wife was on death’s doorstep. Rene survived, and was furious at the Phillies for not giving her husband the telegram so that he could be by her side.

A week after that debacle, William Locke passed away, and the leadership of the team passed from his able hands to the hands of his idiotic and incompetent cousin, William Baker. These two events, occurring within a week of each other, doomed the team.

The belligerent Baker began showing his incompetence the moment the season ended. He sent Seaton a contract offer that would only be honored if he played in 35 games and won 60% of his starts. Seaton and his wife were outraged. That spring, he signed a contract with Chicago of the new Federal League (essentailly the 1914 version of the USFL), then was moved by Federal League execs to the Brooklyn squad. He had a terrific season in the Federal League in 1914, but was overused, and his arm went dead in 1915. After the Federal League folded, he returned to the majors, and had some minor success with the Cubs. But by 1918 he was out of the Majors for good. After bouncing around the Minors for awhile, he was kicked out of baseball for befriending some shady characters following the Black Sox hysteria, and worked for a smelting company in El Paso for the remainder of his life.

The Phillies struggled without him in 1914, but went all the way to the World Series in 1915. You have to wonder: if Seaton had gotten that telegram before the game against the Cubs, would he and Alexander have dominated NL hitters for the next several years, and perhaps won a World Series or two? Or would his arm have burned out anyway? Did Seaton receive the telegram before the Chicago game and not understand the urgency of it, thus staying on the field to pitch, then covering his ass afterwards? Would Superidiot Bill Baker have screwed the whole thing up anyway?

PREVIOUSLY IN THE WHAT-IF FILES: Ferguson Jenkins.


Random 1913 Phillies Photo

Second baseman Otto Knabe (left) and Pitcher Erskine Mayer (right) warm up before a game in 1913. It was in that year that Mayer would set a record for most hits allowed in a row, as 9 straight Cubs got a hit against him. Incredibly, the record would be unmatched for a total of 24 hours, as the very next day his teammate Grover Cleveland Alexander would give up 9 hits in a row himself, to that very same Cubs team. Knabe played 7 years at second base for the Phillies.

 


#9 Most Underrated Philly Athlete of All-Time: Eddie Plank

Eddie Plank is the best Philadelphia athlete you’ve never heard of. Yeah, some guys beat him as more underrated, but you’ve heard of those guys. Odds are you’ve never heard of the former A’s great (I had never heard of him until I did that piece on the 1911 World Series), which is nuts because he’s one of the greatest left handed pitchers in the history of baseball and the argument could be made that he’s the greatest lefty in the history of Philadelphia baseball.

I know. I know. Blasphemy, right? Well, not so fast. Carlton won 329 games. Plank won 326. Carlton had an ERA of 3.22. Plank had an ERA of 2.35. Plank’s career WHIP was 1.119. Lefty’s was 1.247. The only place where they don’t compare is strikeouts. Lefty fanned 4,136 to Plank’s 2,236. I think the slight edge overall goes to Carlton, but not by much.  And the fact that it’s even up for debate shows you exactly how good Plank was.

Born in Gettysburg, PA, in 1875, Plank was known as Gettysburg Eddie. He made his debut with the A’s in 1901 at the age of 25, and he would stay with them until 1914. He helped them to World Series wins in 1911 and 1913. He still holds the record for most shutouts by a left-handed pitcher, with 69.

Of course, it’s kind of fitting that he’s overlooked now, because he was kind of overlooked in his own day as well. Pitching at the same time as Cy Young and Walter Johnson, the quiet lefty’s trademark was consistency, which was just as sexy back then as it is now. As his former teammate Eddie Collins once observed: “Plank was not the fastest. He was not the trickiest, and not the possessor of the most stuff. He was just the greatest.”

All Gettysburg Eddie did was win baseball games. A lot of them. He may have been forgotten in Philly, but not in his hometown. He is a Philadelphia athlete you absolutely, positively should know about.


Welcome to the 1911 World Series!

The Phillies are out of it, but I’ve still got World Series fever. Therefore, I thought we’d relive the World Series of 100 years ago. I’ll be writing everyday as Hap Jackson, sports reporter for the Philadelphia Bulletin. I got the idea from this site, which started with a bang but shut down a few months ago. I thought it was a noble pursuit and thought I’d keep it going here for the Series. So expect plenty of photos, facts and bios of the 1911 A’s here in the next couple of weeks, written as if the Series were taking place now.

(October 14th, 1911) NEW YORK– Hello, sports fans and welcome to the 1911 World Series, which begins at 2 p.m. today between the Philadelphia A’s and the New York Giants. This is a highly anticipated matchup, as the two teams took their pennants with little drama. The Giants won by 7 1/2 games, and the A’s looked like a Model T among horse and buggies on the junior circuit, winning by 13 games. There is no question that we are witnessing the two finest battalions in baseball. Let’s look at their starting lineups and see if we can find who has the upper hand. We’ll start with managers.

MANAGER: Very different styles in manager here, the quiet gentleman Connie Mack of the Athletics (in suit) and the tempestuous firebrand John McGraw (in jersey), aka “The Little Napoleon”. Both are effective in their own styles, and quite popular with their men. Mack takes a laid back approach, while McGraw is known for tripping baserunners when the umpire isn’t looking and barking at opposing players to throw off their concentration. Each man will surely send their troops into battle well-prepared.

ADVANTAGE: None. These are two of the finest managers in the game. Despite contrasting styles, they have the full and complete respect of their players and are both expert tacticians.

For A’s and Giants pitching matchups, click here.

For Infield comparisons between the two teams, click here.

For Outfield comparisons, click here.