Phillies You Should Know: Former Philly Pitcher Phenomenal Smith

Phenomenal_SmithLooks like I’m also gonna have to update the Phillies All-Nickname Team.

Phenomenal Smith was born John Francis Gammon in Manayunk in 1864, and made his pro debut with the Athletics of the American Association in 1884. The next year he joined the Brooklyn Grays. It did not go well. His teammates didn’t appreciate the cocky 20-year old, and when he said he didn’t need teammates to win, they taught him a lesson.  In his first start, the Grays intentionally committed 14 errors and Smith lost 18-5. The team President fined the players $500 each, but in an effort to ensure team harmony, fired Gammon after only one game.

Following that debacle, he joined the Newark Little Giants of the Eastern League. On October 3rd of 1885, he threw a no-hitter in which he struck out 16 and didn’t let a ball leave the infield. The performance was so remarkable that it earned him a new nickname, Phenomenal Smith.

He kicked around the majors and minors for the next several years, re-appearing with the Athletics in 1889, then joining the Phillies in 1890. He was cut in 1891, and never made it back to the majors, though he played and coached in the minors for another 15 years, playing for colorful teams such as the Green Bay Bays, the Hartfort Cooperative, and even a team that named itself after him, the Pawtucket Phenoms. While coaching a team in Norfolk, VA, he signed a young Christy Mathewson. Under Smith’s tutelage, Matthewson thrived, and by the end of the season he was signed by the New York Giants.

After retiring, Smith joined the Manchester, Massachusetts police department. He died in 1952 at the age of 87.

 


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.


#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.


Who is the Only Person to Play for Both the Eagles and Phillies?

The correct answer to this awesome trivia question? Walt Masters, born on March 28th, 1907 in Pen Argyle (near Easton). Masters was a Philly boy, though, graduating from West Philly High School and then attending the Wharton School at Penn.  He played baseball and football at Penn, and was a star at both.

Masters made his MLB debut for the Washington Senators on July 9th, 1931, when he pitched an inning in a 14-1 blowout over the Red Sox. He pitched twice more that year, and then disappeared from baseball. He was also making money as a semi-pro football player, and baseball didn’t allow people to play other sports in the US. Masters tried to get around the rule by moving to Canada and playing for the Rough Riders (those Penn kids are a sneaky bunch aren’t they?) But the Rough Riders wouldn’t let him play football because they were amateurs and he had gotten paid for baseball, so he coached football and played baseball for an Ottawa team for a few years. He returned to Philly in 1936 and played briefly for the Eagles at QB. He went 1-6 for 11 yards with one INT, and ran 7 times for 18 yards. After the season, he signed with the Phillies and was on the team briefly in 1937. He didn’t have much more success on the diamond, where the pitcher appeared in one game and got blasted for 4 earned runs in a single inning of work against the Reds. Two years later, he would reappear on the Philadelphia A’s (making him also the answer to the question, “Who is the only player to play for the A’s, Phillies, and Eagles?”) He pitched in 4 games and finished the year with a 6.55 ERA.

During the war, former sports stars were in high demand, so in 1943 the 36-year old Masters played a few games for the Chicago Cardinals. He wasn’t very good, going 17-45, 249 yards, with 2 TDs and 7 Ints. He tossed 7 more passes for the Cards in 1944, and then was out of pro sports for good. He returned to Ottawa, where he played both football and baseball. He then worked in public relations for a company specializing in cleaning buildings in Ottawa. He died in Canada in 1992 at the age of 85.

Masters NFL stats.

Masters MLB stats.


How Connie Mack Beat a Hall of Famer With Horsesh*t

Big Ed Walsh was a baseball superstar. The Chicago White Sox pitcher dominated American League hitters early in the 20th century. In 1908, as he mastered the spitball, he went from solid to spectacular. His final numbers for the year: 40-15 with 1.42 ERA (He’s the last pitcher to win 40 games in a season). He pitched an amazing 464 innings. His workload decreased the next year, but he bounced back with an insane 0.82 WHIP in 1910 and 27 win seasons in 1911 and 1912.

The secret to his success was his incredible spitball. As Tiger Hall of Famer “Wahoo” Sam Crawford would note years later, “I think that ball would disintegrated on the way to the plate, and the catcher put it back together again. I swear, when it went past the plate, it was just the spit that went by.” Big Ed was plenty confident about his best pitch too. “”When I’ve got the spitter breaking right, I can beat any ball club in the world. No use trying to bat against it. It’s simply unhittable.”

But Ed pitched an average of 375 innings from 1907-1912, and the innings started to take their toll. After the 1912 season, he asked Charles Comiskey if he could take a year off to rest the arm. I don’t need to tell you what one of the most despicable owners in the history of sports had to say about that. And so Big Ed was back on the mound to start the 1913 season.

The Philadelphia A’s were at their peak then, in the midst of winning 3 pennants in 4 years. But Connie Mack was sick of losing 1-0 games to Big Ed, and he looked for a way to beat the spitball. He found it in a strange intricacy of Walsh’s spitball. Ed cut out the middle man, and just licked the ball.

Back in those days, the home team supplied the game balls. So Mack had his ball boy run to a nearby stable and grab a bucket of horsesh*t. Mack then had all of the game balls rubbed in horse manure.

The game started, and Walsh began his normal routine. It didn’t take long for Walsh to realize that something was wrong. “I vomited all over the place,” Walsh would say later about that game. Walsh was infuriated, and lost his cool. He began beaning A’s. The Athletics crushed the White Sox.

Big Ed  was struggling with a dead arm at the time, and the game didn’t do him any favors. After the A’s blasted him again that July, he took the rest of the season off. He was done. He had won 189 games by age 32. He would win 6 more over the rest of his career. One book claimed that the manure game was the turning point of his career, that other teams began using manure and he couldn’t get over it, but that seems highly unlikely. Walsh was in extreme arm pain by 1913, and had considered taking the year off before the manure game even occurred. Nonetheless, the only pitcher to get beaten by horsesh*t was so dominant for those 6 seasons that he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.

Anyone who has any further info on this story, please let me know. There is very little information on it. I don’t even have a final score on the game (baseball reference doesn’t have winning and losing pitchers for the 1913 season). I first read it in the Incomplete Book of Baseball Superstitions, Rituals, and Oddities, by Mike Blake. I also found some backup in another book called How Baseball Works, and there is a quote from Walsh about it in Baseball’s Most Wanted. But incredibly, there is really no info on this online, and no mention of it in Walsh’s biography. Of course, part of the beauty of old baseball legends is that they are just that: legends. Did the Babe really call his shot? We’ll never know. Which makes it all the more compelling. Same goes for this story, though I would like to learn a bit more about this actual game. -ed.


Bands, Fans Greet A’s; Catcalls Greet Snodgrass

The two teams caught trains into Philadelphia after Game 3, and their reception in the City of Brotherly Love was radically different. The A’s were greeted as conquering heroes. Three bands were hired to welcome them to the North Philadelphia train station, and thousands of fans turned out to hail their heroes. The players walked with their wives towards their cars, and fans carried a large blue flag with a white elephant on it behind them, calling after Home Run Baker. He told them that he wasn’t hurt badly and that he’d be ready to play in Game 4.

The Giants got a very different reception when they reached the Reading Terminal station at 10:25 p.m. and headed for the taxis. Fred Snodgrass, who slid into Home Run Baker and sliced his arm and knee, will be a goat in Philadelphia as long as he is alive. The Giants are staying at the Hotel Majestic at Broad and Girard (above. You can see the lobby by clicking here.)

Info gathered from Frank “Home Run” Baker: Hall of Famer and World Series Hero as well as Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball. 


Athletics You Should Know: Wally Schang

Perhaps the greatest catcher you’ve never heard of, Wally Schang was the backstop on 4 different World Series champions, which was probably a combination of luck and his remarkable skill behind the plate. He began his career in Philadelphia with the Athletics in 1913. He started about half the team’s games, then started 4 out of the 5 World Series games that year, as the A’s crushed the Giants, 4 games to 1. Schang had an excellent World Series, knocking in 7 runs, hitting a Home Run and a Triple. The New York Times wrote, “Wally Schang, the kid catcher of the Athletics, will go down into history as the sensation of the 1913 World Series.” 

Connie Mack blew up the squad after losing the 1914 World Series, and Schang would have to play for a 1915 team that was similar to the 1998 Marlins; they went from the World Series to the depths of the basement, going 43-109, 58 games out of first. Scahng had to suffer through two more terrible seasons before Mack did him a favor and sent him to the Red Sox.

But before he was shipped off, he made baseball history. On September 8th, 1916, the switch hitting Shang became the first player in MLB history to homer from both sides of the plate, hitting homers off Yankee pitchers Allan Russell and Slim Love. Yes, Slim Love. (If there are any rappers reading this, do yourself a favor and change your name to Slim Love. Immediately.) No player would do it again until Augie Galan of the Cubs did it in 1937.

In an effort to further reduce payroll, the penny pinching Mack sent Shang to the Red Sox in 1917. In his first year on the Sox, he caught for Red Sox legends Carl Mays and Dutch Leonard, as well as a young lefty named Babe Ruth, on a team that would win their 4th World Series in 7 years. No-one could have possibly imagined then that he would be the last catcher to guide the Red Sox to a World Series title until Jason Varitek.

Schang was traded to the Yankees in 1920, and won a Series with them in 1923. After a few years with the woeful Brown, he was signed by Mack in 1930. The 40 year old catcher would play only sparingly, and not hit very well. He would not make an appearance in the 1930 World Series, but he earned a World Series ring nonetheless, his 4th. He would play one more season, with Detroit, and then call it a career.

The speedy Shang is still 7th all-time among catchers for steals, with 121, holds the AL record by throwing out 6 base stealers in one game in 1915, and he is one of only 6 players to play on 3 different World Series winning teams. Incredibly, four of those six played for the 1913 A’s (Shang, Herb Pennock, Stuffy McInnis, and Bullet Joe Bush.)

He certainly wasn’t on the cutting edge of style. The moustache had gone out of fashion in the early 20th century, but Schang had one when he first came to the majors. Though he would soon shave it of, he would go down in history as the last MLB player to sport one until the Phils Dick Allen started growing one in 1970.