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

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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.


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?


Everything You Need to Know About Philadelphia and the 3,000 Hit Club

The most exciting chase in baseball right now is Derek Jeter’s chase of 3,000 hits. I am certainly not a Yankees fan, but I am appreciative of what is going on in New York. It’s been a few years since we had a real record to cheer for (I’m pretty sure Jeter didn’t do steroids) and 3,000 hits for one team is remarkable. Of the 27 players in the 3,000 hit club, only 12 players have hit 3,000 for one squad in history, and Jeter’s name will soon be mentioned in the same exalted breaths as those of Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, and Ty Cobb.

No player in Philadelphia has ever hit 3,000. Not for the Phillies or for the Athletics. To show you how impressive 3,000 is, consider this:  Mike Schmidt was a very good hitter, he played in Philly for 18 years (playing in 140 or more games 13 times), and he is the Phils all time leader with 2,234. Not even close to 3,000. The most career hits by a member of the Philadelphia A’s is 1,827, set by the great Al Simmons. Furthermore, no player has ever gotten his 3,000th hit while a member of a Philadelphia team.

But that doesn’t mean that the city of Philadelphia hasn’t had a few brushes with greatness. One Philadelphia pitcher gave up a 3,000th hit, one gave up a 4,000th hit, and we almost had the 4,000 hit mark passed by two Philadelphia players. Furthermore, six members of the 3,000 hit club spent part of their careers in Philly. These are those players, plus the pitchers that gave up the milestones.

Pete Rose. (4,256 career hits. 826 with the Phillies). The Phils got a hold of Rose not long after #3,000. He would get 826 hits for the Phils over the next 5 years, leading the league in hits during the strike shortened 1981 season. He finished his Phils career with 3,990 hits. He would get his 4,000th hit against the Phils Jerry Koosman just 9 games into his tenure with the Expos in 1984.

Ty Cobb. (4,191 career hits. 289 with the Athletics). Yes, Cobb got 3,000 hits with the same squad (Detroit), but a lot of people don’t realize that he didnt end his career in the Motor City. He spent the last two years of his career in Philadelphia (pic of him in an A’s uniform above). And while no player has ever gotten his 3,000th hit while a member of a Philadelphia team, Ty Cobb did get his 4,000th hit while a member of the A’s. Ironically, that hit was recorded in Detroit against the Tigers. It wasn’t a big deal at the time. No mention of it was made in the papers.

Tris Speaker (3,514 career hits. 51 with the A’s) Not much to say about Speaker’s time with the A’s. Ty Cobb’s long time arch rival came to Philadelphia in the twilight of his career, strangely enough, to team up with Cobb. It was a failed experiment. Speaker suffered an injury in an outfield collision in May, played sporadically off the bench, and struck out in his final at bat on August 30th, 1928. Both the first and last games of his career were played in Shibe Park.

Cap Anson (3,418 career hits*. Maybe. Controversy about his total with the Athletics). Cap Anson was a racist jerkoff but a hell of a good baseball player, and he spent his formative baseball years in Philly. From 1872-1875, he was a member of the Philadelphia Athletics. (Not the Connie Mack-led team that is the forerunner of the Oakland Athletics, but the initial Philadelphia Athletics who were members of the American Association. We’ve written about them before). Stats were all kind of crazy back then, with walks counting as hits one year, batters requesting where they wanted the ball thrown, and pitchers throwing from a box. So while Cap Anson is credited with being the first ever member of the 3,000 hit club, nobody can honestly say they have any damn clue exactly how many hits he had. Plus the Majors until recently didn’t count National Association stats, so his stats for the Athletics previously didn’t count (they were in the NA, not the NL). But for some reason MLB reversed field, allowing NA stats. Anyway, who the hell knows how many hits Cap Anson had? And who cares? He was a certifiable a-hole who spent most of his career in Chicago anyways.

Eddie Collins. (3,315 career hits. 1,308 with the Athletics).  Lalli wrote an excellent piece on Collins a few weeks ago. Not much to add, but how about this for consistency: for 5 years in Philly between 1910 and 1914, he hit between 181 and 188 hits each year. That’s a pic of him to the right. He wore a popped collar. What a douchebag.

Nap Lajoie. (3,242 career hits. 721 with the Phillies. 233 with the Athletics.) Once again, Lalli has beaten me to the punch, telling the ridiculous story of how the rivalry between the Phils and Athletics allowed the great Lajoie to slip out of town and become a superstar in Cleveland. Our deals with Cleveland never seem to pan out.

As for the only Philadelphia pitcher to surrender a 3,000th hit, that would be Erskine Mayer considered one of the greatest Jewish pitchers of all time. He surrendered #3,000 to Honus Wagner on June 9th, 1914 at the Baker Bowl.

 


Philadelphia’s 2nd Best 2nd Baseman Returns

Chase Utley’s resume is loaded even considering the time he’s lost due to various injuries.  Over the course of his 8-year career for the Phillies, he has boasted a career .287 average, 4 years over 100 runs, 4 years over 100 RBI, over 200 homers and over 125 stolen bases.  Utley is a five-time All-Star and a four-time Silver Slugger winner.  Simply put, during his tenure, Utley has been the best hitting 2nd baseman in the game.  His trophy case doesn’t house any Gold Gloves, but that’s the result of a screw-job.  His UZR/150 (this may be a history site, but I love newfangled stats) reveals he was the best defensive second baseman in National League in 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009; and from ’07-’09 he was, by far, the best defensive second baseman in all of baseball.

That being said, and with all due respect to Mr. Utley, we’ve seen better, a lot better.  At 5’9″ and 175 lbs., Eddie Collins (seen above) may not have been an imposing figure, but there is no doubt that he stands taller than anyone else who has ever played that position in this town.

In the summer of 1906, between semesters at Columbia, Eddie Collins played semi-pro baseball for a team based in Rutland, Vermont.  He was “discovered” by A’s pitcher Andy Coakley, who was vacationing when he saw Collins play.  Coakley passed word to Connie Mack about Collins’ skills and the undergrad student signed that summer (albeit under the pseudonym of Eddie “Sullivan” in a fruitless attempt to preserve his college eligibility).  In 1909, his first full year as a regular with the Athletics, he took the league by storm.  In 153 games, Collins batted .347, scored 104 runs and stole 63 bases.  At the plate he was 2nd in the league in batting average, hits, walks and steals.  Defensively, Collins led all second basemen in putouts, assists, double plays and fielding percentage.

The 1910 A’s rolled to the pennant and the 23-year-old Collins was a major factor.  He led the American League in steals with 81 and was top 5 in hits, RBI and batting average.  Once again, he led almost every fielding category.  Collins didn’t disappoint in the postseason either, batting .429 in the title clinching series against the Cubs.  From 1911 through 1914, the A’s won 3 more pennants with Collins leading the way.  Over those seasons, Collins’ batting average was never lower than .344, he stole an average of 53 bases and scored an average of 119 runs.  Collins was a contender for the Chalmers Award (given to the league’s most valuable player) each year and finally took home the honor in 1914.

Although he was a cornerstone of the A’s dynasty, Collins was sold to the Chicago White Sox for $50,000 after his MVP season.  Collins spent 12 years in Chicago and solidified himself as the best second baseman in the game.  In 1917, the White Sox and the Giants met for the world title.  Collins batted .409 in the series and scored the series winning run in Game 6 after escaping a run-down between 3rd and home by outracing third baseman Heinie Zimmerman to the plate.  In 1919, after returning from WWI, Collins was again a star for the White Sox and was one of the few not caught up in the “Black Sox” scandal of the World Series (notwithstanding his .226 in that series).

In all, Collins played 25 seasons in the majors and finished with a lifetime .333 batting average and a just as impressive .328 post season average.  He amassed 3,315 hits, 744 steals, 1,300 RBI and 1,821 runs.  With those numbers, and his 4 world titles, he was easily elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939.  Putting his production in perspective: Collins leads all HOF second baseman in hits, runs and stolen bases; has the 2nd highest on-base percentage; and has the 3rd highest batting average.

Utley might be the best Phillie to ever play second base, but Eddie Collins is the best to ever play second base in Philly.