Ted Kazanski (not to be confused with Kaczynski) didn’t have a stellar career in the majors. In his six-year career, all of which was spent as a Phillie, the utility infielder batted .217 with a total of 118 runs, 116 RBI, and 14 HR. But on August 8, 1956, Kazanski made a mark that no Phillie has since matched.
On this date 55 years ago, the Phillies were facing the New York Giants at Polo Grounds. The Phils were up 3-2 heading into the top of the 6th inning. Giants pitcher Jim Hearn, coaxed a leadoff ground out from Del Ennis and then gave up consecutive singles to Elmer Valo and Willie Jones. After Granny Hamner was intentionally walked, second baseman Ted Kazanski stepped to the plate with the based loaded and one out. Kazanski smoked a liner to the center field wall, which stood 483′ from home plate. Even with Willie Mays sprinting to the ball, the fact that Polo Grounds boasted the deepest center field wall of any stadium in major league history gave Kazanski all the time he needed to round the bases and score.
Kazanski was the 4th, and last, Phillie to hit an inside-the-park granny. The others were Irish Meusel (1918), George Harper (1924) and interestingly one of the guys who crossed the plate before Kazanski: Willie Jones (1951). Five Philadelphia Athletics accomplished the rare feat, two of whom did it twice: Harry Davis (1902 and 1904), Danny Murphy (1904 and 1908), Stuffy McInnis (1911), Lee Gooch (1917) and Ferris Fain (1947).
There’s one position in each team sport that requires more mental toughness than all of the rest. In football it’s the quarterback, in basketball it’s the point guard, in hockey it’s the goalie, and in baseball it’s the pitcher. With pitching comes the relentless pressure of knowing that you are one mistake away from single-handedly losing the game for your team. Whether it’s a defense mechanism to cope with this stress, or simply a job requirement, major league pitchers, especially lefties, are generally the weirdest players on the field. And the oddest of the bunch was Philadelphia Athletics’ pitcher, Rube Waddell.
A harbinger of things to come, George Edward Waddell was born on Friday the 13th in October of 1876 in northeastern Pennsylvania. He learned his craft on nearby farmland by throwing rocks at crows trying to poach seeds as they were being planted. Waddell developed farm boy size and was soon dominating the local youth baseball league.
When he was 19, he earned a spot on Butler’s local semi-pro team anddisplayed an overpowering fastball. He also displayed a childlike rawness that reflected his provincial background. When he started playing, he would bean any runner who hit a groundball back to the mound instead of forcing the player out at first, explaining “hit the batter and he’s out where I come from.” Discovered by a traveling salesman in 1896, Waddell was offered a job on the Franklin Braves in the newly-formed Iron and Oil League.
When Waddell arrived in Franklin, catcher Jack Nelson gave him the nickname “Rube,” which was reserved for hicks and it stuck immediately. Although there was no questioning his talent, Waddell’s head was often somewhere other than in the game. He would leave in the middle of games to go fishing, or, if a firetruck passed the field he would run off and chase it. He would also go on drinking benders and disappear for days on end.
After Franklin folded, Waddell’s next opportunity came with Volant, a local college. Volant made Rube an offer he couldn’t refuse: free tuition and room and board, in addition to $1 per game and free tobacco. At Volant, both his skill and his eccentricities were on full display. He was absolutely dominant as the lefty had developed a sharp curve ball and great control. He averaged 15 strikeouts per 7-inning game. More than once, Rube called for all of his players to the leave the field and pitched with no defense behind him. Waddell would celebrate three-strikeout innings by cartwheeling, or walking on his hands, or somersaulting off the field back to the dugout.
With these antics, he soon caught the attention of major league baseball teams and signed with the National League’s Louisville Colonels in 1897. However, he lasted just two games and left after being fined $50 for drinking, which had by this time become a major problem. Over the course of the next few years, he split time between the majors and the minors. In 1902, Connie Mack took a risk on the oddball and signed him to the Philadelphia Athletics.
As an Athletic, Waddell immediately turned things around and put up unreal numbers in 1902 en route to clinching the franchise’s first pennant. His first start came on June 26th, 51 games into the season. Appearing in only 33 games that year, he compiled a 24-7 record, a 2.05 ERA, led the American League with 210 strikeouts (50 more than runner-up Cy Young who appeared in 100 more innings than did Waddell). He also pitched baseball’s first immaculate inning on July 1st. Over the course of Waddell’s career in Philadelphia, from ’03-’07, he won 21, 25, 27, 15 and 19 games respectively. His ERA with the A’s was a paltry 1.97 with a low of 1.48 in 1905. During that season, Waddell was motoring along until he got into a fight with a teammate over a straw hat and injured his throwing shoulder. This injury cost him the last month of the season, including the World Series. (Phillies owner Horace Fogel said Waddell was absent because he was paid off.) From ’04-’07 he pitched at least 7 shutouts per season. He also led the majors in strikeouts over 5 consecutive seasons. His record of 349 ks in 1904 stood for 60 seasons until Sandy Koufax struck out 382 in 1965.
Waddell’s turnaround was a direct result of Connie Mack’s managing. According to Mack, Waddell “had more stuff than any pitcher I ever saw. He had everything but a sense of responsibility.” Because of this, Mack paid Waddell on an as-needed basis in singles so he wouldn’t blow his earnings on alcohol. While Mack could control Waddell’s paychecks, he couldn’t control all of the idiosyncrasies. Waddell’s fascination with fire departments continued throughout his time with the A’s and he routinely wore red under his clothing just in case a fire bell would ring. He missed starts because he was fishing, or was late to games because he was playing marbles in the streets of Philadelphia with children. He was married three times and was often put in jail for missing alimony payments.
Cooperstown historian Lee Allen succinctly described 1903 in the life of Rube Waddell:
He began that year sleeping in a firehouse in Camden, New Jersey, and ended it tending bar in a saloon in Wheeling, West Virginia. In between those events he won 22 games for the Philadelphia Athletics, played left end for the Business Men’s Rugby Football Club of Grand Rapids, Michigan, toured the nation in a melodrama called The Stain of Guilt, courted, married and became separated from May Wynne Skinner of Lynn, Massachusetts, saved a woman from drowning, accidentally shot a friend through the hand, and was bitten by a lion.
Other examples of the bizarre with Waddell include:
- He wrestled alligators during the off season.
- He played for two Philadelphia Athletics clubs in 1902: the baseball club and the Philadelphia Athletics of the first National Football League (at 6’2″ and 200 lbs. he was a fullback).
- He almost shot Connie Mack in the head when a pistol fell out of his pocket and fired at the team hotel.
- His contract included a clause, at his catcher’s insistence, that prohibited Waddell from eating crackers in bed. During the early years, players would share beds on road trips and Ossee Schreckengost couldn’t sleep because of the crumbs.
- In 1903, he climbed into the stands to beat up a spectator who was heckling him and was suspended for 5 games.
- In one game, Waddell was at bat in the 8th inning with 2 outs and a man on second. After a pitch, the catcher threw to second in a pick-off attempt, but the ball sailed into the outfield. The A’s runner took off and was rounding home to score when the center fielder fired home. Waddell, with bat still in hand, swung and hit the ball back into play. He was called out for interference. His explanation for the gaffe, “They’d been feeding me curves all afternoon, and this was the first straight ball I’d looked at!”
At the end of the 1907 season, Waddell was slumping badly and was then sold to St. Louis “in the interests of team unity.” He pitched out the final three years of his major league career before drinking his way back to the minors in 1911.
The events surrounding Waddell’s death were just as memorable as those surrounding his life. In the fall of 1912, he was living in Kentucky with friends when a nearby dam collapsed and caused devastating flooding in the region. Waddell immediately went to help out in whatever way he could, by pulling people out of homes and by working for hours on end in cold water piling up sandbags. Although his actions were herioc, they also proved costly as he developed pneumonia. As a result, his body was severely weakened and he battled bouts of pneumonia and tuberculosis from which he never fully recovered. He died in 1914 at the age of 37…on April Fool’s day.
In 1946, he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame. By all accounts, Waddell was known much more for his eccentricities than for his talent. But there is no doubt that the former rivaled the latter as Waddell was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.
If you enjoy reading this site, I heartily recommend that you buy the book To Every Thing a Season by Bruce Kuklick (pronounced Cook-lick). This is the quite simply the best book I have read yet about Philadelphia sports. The book is about Shibe Park, and it covers not only the games that took place there, but the way it helped to shape the surrounding neighborhood over the nearly 70 years it stood at 20th and Lehigh. A truly terrific read that is not only filled with a ton of fascinating facts about the old Phillies and A’s ball clubs, but also a terrific look at the city itself between 1909 and 1976.
I sat down to an interview with Kuklick, and the affable and excitable UPenn History professor talked about Connie Mack’s legacy, why people back in the day decided whether to root for the Phillies or the Athletics (since they played 6 blocks away from each other), and which team is better, the 2011 Phils or the 1929 A’s. There’s so much good stuff in this interview that I’m going to split it into three parts. This is part one. Enjoy! -Johnny Goodtimes
JGT: What inspired you to write this book?
KUKLICK: I’m a long time baseball fan, but up until the point of writing this book, I had kind of fallen away from the game. It was partly the Phillies. They were so lousy in the 60s that I didn’t pay any attention to them. And then my daughter started going to public school in Philly and started getting involved with the Phillies, and she and I started going to games regularly again. I looked around, it was then the Vet, and I said, “How did we get to this wretched, horrible ballpark?” Which I really hated. “What happened to take us away from that old ballpark, Connie Mack Stadium, Shibe Park?” And I’m a historian, and I think, “I can figure this out.” So I started doing the research in old newspapers at the Temple Urban Archives…and then I was hooked. I spent more time up there at Temple than I care to tell you about. For 5 years I was up there every Thursday and Friday.
JGT: One thing a lot of people have asked me about and I haven’t been able to find a good answer for yet is this: the Athletics and the Phillies played extremely close to each other. The two ballparks (Shibe and Baker Bowl) were 6 blocks away. How did fans decide which team they were going to be a fan of?
KUKLICK: It wasn’t much of a choice. The A’s were the team of choice. I mean, you’re a loser if you’re a Phillies fan. If you look at statistics on attendance, the Phillies get nobody. I suspect, though I can’t prove it, that it was a very, very local crowd. If you lived 2 blocks from the Phillies and 4 blocks from the A’s, maybe you’d go there. But they had nobody. They had lousy players. Whenever they had a good player they would sell them to make ends meet (ed. note: sound familiar, Pittsburgh Pirate fans?) There were a couple of scandals around them in the early 1940s, about gambling and stuff. So it’s not really much of a choice. The A’s are the premiere team. People go and see the A’s play. The Phillies are kind of a minor 2nd thought, kind of an embarrassment to the National League. Of course, a lot of the National League teams are happy to have the Phillies around.
JGT: They’ve got someone to beat up on every couple of weeks.
KUKLICK: That’s right. That’s right. That’s why I like your site. Finally somebody says, “Sure the Phillies are great. Sure Chase Utley is great. But is he the greatest 2nd baseman that’s ever played here? Absolutely not. He doesn’t even come close.” People don’t realize that the 1929, 1930, and 1931 A’s are better than even this team today, which I think is the best team this franchise has had.
JGT: Sports Illustrated called that the team time forgot. People forget that those A’s smoked Ruth, Gehrig, and the Yankees in the standings.
KUKLICK: I know that.
JGT: Well, it’s a great trivia question. What Philadelphia pro team has won the most championships?That team is the one that moved away from here 57 years ago.
KUKLICK: And it’s not only that. They were only here for 54 years too. The Phillies have had a lot more years to put it together.
JGT: You had two stadiums, Shibe Park and the Baker Bowl. Was Shibe Park superior to the Baker Bowl?
KUKLICK: Oh yeah. In fact the Phillies moved to Shibe in 1938. They had a couple of fires in the Baker Bowl, part of the stands collapsed, a repeated number of disasters.
JGT: Now Shibe was built in 1908 and 1909. When it was built, was it considered revolutionary?
KUKLICK: It was the first concrete and steel stadium. What that means is that it’s concrete that they stick steels rods in to make it almost indestructible. In fact, I bet you if you dig up under that church (there’s now a church on the old Shibe Park grounds) you’ll find bits of Shibe Park under the ground. I was told that it was so difficult to knock this place down that they finally just dug a huge hole at 21st and Lehigh and just put all the stuff in there and covered it over.
It’s the first stadium in the United States that uses this new technology, and it’s rapidly followed by a lot of similar stadiums. The two most important ones now are Fenway and Wrigley.
JGT: So did that sort of kick off a boom the way that Camden Yards in the 90s did?
KUKLICK: Oh yeah. Yeah. It’s the first one.
To read part 2 of this interview, click here. Then, as part of our Beer Week coverage, we’ll post Part 3, where he talks about how Connie Mack fought for decades to get booze into the ballpark, and how Pennsylvania’s blue laws and bars near the ballpark prevented him from doing so.
- If you haven’t done so already, and want to learn more about the early A’s, be sure to check out the interview I did with Chief Bender biographer Tom Swift.
- You’ll also enjoy this interview I did with former Philadelphia A’s fan John Rooney, who cheered the team on in 1929.
- And I’m pretty sure you’ll like this piece I did on former A’s player Simon Nicholls, who died tragically at age 28.
Infielder Wilson Valdez earning the win in last night’s 19 inning marathon is the kind of oddity that is reserved solely for extra-inning baseball. You’ll never see Mike Richards throw on goalie pads for the 5th OT, or Jeremy Maclin attempt a game-winning field goal, or Elton Brand switch to point guard; but you might see an infielder who hasn’t pitched since he played on the Expos’ Dominican League team take the mound when the team needs a scoreless inning.
As JGT points out, Wilson Valdez is the first position player to earn a win for the Phillies since Jimmie Foxx did it, against the Reds no less, in 1945. But Foxx started the second-half of that double-header on the mound. He had some time, albeit little, to prepare. Valdez started last night’s game at second base and played there for 18 innings, until he was thrown in to pitch in the 19th. And he performed: retiring Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Carlos Fisher (and hitting Scott Rolen for good measure).
The last time a position player who started in the field went on to become the winning pitcher was October 21, 1921 in a game between the Philadelphia Athletics and the New York Yankees at Polo Grounds. The Yanks were holding on to a 6 run league after seven innings when Babe Ruth, who started in left field, was inserted to close out the game in the 8th. The A’s got to Ruth quickly, scoring 6 runs and tying the game in the 8th. For some reason, Yankees manager Miller Huggins left Ruth in the game and was rewarded by doing so. Ruth settled in and pitched scoreless innings in the 9th, 10th and 11th. The Yankees would go on to win the game in the bottom of the 11th on a Johnny Mitchell RBI single that scored Tom Rogers.
And that’s the last time I’ll ever compare Wilson Valdez and Babe Ruth.
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.
Napolean Lajoie is indisputably one of baseball’s greats. “Nap” amassed 3,242 hits in his career, which is good enough for 12th in the history of the game. His lifetime average of .338 places him in the all-time top 20. In addition to batting over .300 in 16 of his 21 seasons and higher than .350 ten times, he batted an unbelievable .426 in 1901 (still an American League record). That same season, in a game against the Chicago White Stockings, Lajoie became the first player in American League history to be intentionally walked with the bases loaded*. Lajoie was in one of the charter classes of the Hall of Fame and his plaque in Cooperstown reads “Great hitter and most graceful and effective fielder of his era.”
Had Lajoie spent his entire career in Philadelphia, he would easily be one the greatest athletes in this city’s history. But a dispute over a $400 under-the-table payment resulted in an injunction which barred the star second basemen from playing baseball in Pennsylvania. With that prohibition, Lajoie was sent to Cleveland in the prime of his career and spent 13 seasons racking up HOF numbers.
To understand how Nap Lajoie was the subject of such a strange ruling, some background about baseball’s “reserve clause” is necessary. The reserve clause, in short, bound players to their teams for as long as the team chose to have him. Then, after just 10 days notice, a team could release a player from his contract. Therefore, when a player’s contract expired he had to renegotiate a new contract with his original team, or request to be released. By 1882, the National League and multiple minor leagues all agreed to strictly enforce the reserve the clause and harshly penalize teams and players who violated the rule.
And that was the system in which Lajoie started his career. In 1896, Lajoie batted .326 as a 21-year-old rookie for the Phillies. In the next four seasons, Lajoie’s average would never dip below .324, which cemented him as a bona fide star in major league baseball.
So why did Philly lose out on Lajoie?
After the 1900 season, Lajoie’s five-year contract expired. Lajoie was making the league maximum of $2,400 per year in addition to a $200 under-the-table yearly payment by Phillies owner Colonel John Rogers. Lajoie most likely would have re-signed with the Phillies, but as luck would have it, he was Ed Delahanty’s road roommate. Delahanty, the Phillies star outfielder, was being paid $600 over the cap in 1900 and Lajoie saw one of his checks. Lajoie refused to sign with the Phillies for the 1901 season unless Rogers paid him $400 to make up the difference for the prior year.
At about the same time, Ban Johnson, President of the Western League, changed its name to the American League and announced it would be a major league starting in 1901. He wanted to be in direct competition with the National League, and thus placed franchises in many cities with American League teams, including Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. In another competitive move, Johnson’s did not enforce the reserve clause. This made his league much more attractive to professional ballplayers than the National League and many players jumped ship to American League teams. In fact, of the 182 players in the inaugural 1901 season of the American League, at least 110 had played for a National League team the prior season.
So you’ve got a disgruntled star player and a new team in town, the Philadelphia Athletics. Connie Mack learned of the trouble between Lajoie and Rogers and stepped in. He offered Lajoie a 4-year-contract worth somewhere between $16,000 and $24,000. In February of 1901, Lajoie signed a contract with the A’s and became their starting second baseman. Lajoie was interviewed about the switch later in his life and admitted that Rogers matched Mack’s offer, but refused to pay him the $400 that Lajoie thought he was entitled to from 1900.
Based on the reserve clause, Rogers immediately sought an injunction to bar Lajoie and two other players he lost to the American League from playing for the A’s. The court denied his request for an injunction, thus allowing the defectors to play in their new American League homes.
In 1901, Lajoie had one of the best single seasons in baseball history. In addition to setting the still unbroken record for highest batting average in the American League, he led the Athletics in runs, hits, doubles, home runs and runs batted in. He won the Triple Crown and led the American League in 8 offensive categories.
Rogers appealed the court’s decision and the case was finally decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in April of 1902, one day after opening day. The court sided with Rogers and granted the injunction. In doing so, it determined that the reserve clause was lawful and agreed that Lajoie was an irreplaceable player. The result of the injunction was that Lajoie was banned from playing baseball in Pennsylvania for any team other than the Phillies, who still had ownership of Lajoie’s services.
As talented as Lajoie was, the Athletics couldn’t keep a player who was barred from playing home games. Therefore, Mack allowed Lajoie to negotiate with his good friend Charles Somers, owner the Cleveland Bronchos (aka Blues, later known as the Indians). Lajoie signed with the Cleveland squad and played out the majority of his HOF career for Cleveland, save for a small caveat. Whenever the Bronchos came to Philly to play the Athletics, Rogers would ensure law enforcement was there to board the train in Philadelphia to serve Lajoie with citations for contempt. However, he was never caught. Each time, Lajoie would miss the games in Philly, staying in Atlantic City while his team played in Philadelphia, then rejoin the team immediately afterwards.
Lajoie became a hero in Cleveland. For a short while, the team even went by the Cleveland Naps instead of the Bronchos, making Lajoie the only active player in history who had his team named after him. Years later, the injunction was lifted and Lajoie played the final two years of his career for the Athletics.
Credit to C. Paul Rogers, III, “Napoean Lajoie, Breach of Contract and the Great Baseball War.” (SMU Law Review, 2002)
*If you’re curious, the only players in the last 65 years to be intentionally walked with the bases loaded are Barry Bonds (1998) and Josh Hamilton (2008).