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.

 


Fun Facts About Every No-Hitter Ever Pitched Against the Phillies

Noodles Hahn

Noodles Hahn

On Sunday afternoon, the Phillies got no-hit by Josh Beckett at Citizen’s Bank Park. It was only the 2nd no-hitter ever thrown at CBP (the first was thrown by Roy Halladay). But it was hardly the first time the Phils had been no-hit. Here’s a list of all previous no-hitters thrown against the Phillies with fun facts about each one.

September 13, 1883-Hugh Daily/ Cleveland Blues. The first man to no-hit the Phillies had only one hand…his left hand had been blown off in a gun accident when he was a kid. The next year he would throw 4 one-hitters in a single season, a record he still shares today with Grover Cleveland Alexander.

July 12, 1900-Noodles Hahn/ Cincinnati Reds. The first MLB no-hitter of the new century. Remarkably, the next day after getting no-hit, the Phillies scored 23 runs. (You can get yourself a 1900 Reds cap here.)

July 4, 1908-Hooks Wiltse/ New York Giants. This is a famous one, where a blown umpire’s call cost Wiltse a perfect game with 2 outs and 2 strikes in the 9th.

September 6th, 1912- Jeff Tesreau/ New York Giants. Tesreau was a rookie sensation, leading the NL with a 1.96 ERA that year.

September 9th, 1914- Iron Davis/ Boston Braves. The no-hitter was the highlight of Davis’s otherwise uneventful major league career. Interestingly, he also went 3-4 at the plate that afternoon. They were the only three hits he had all year. (You can purchase a Braves hat from that era here.)

May 7th, 1922- Jesse Barnes/ New York Giants. Three years earlier, Barnes and the Giants had beaten the Phillies at the Polo Grounds in 51 minutes, still the shortest 9-inning game in MLB history.

September 13, 1925-Dazzy Vance/ Brooklyn Robins.Known for his blazing fastball, Vance would lead the NL in strikeouts for 7 straight years, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981.

June 12th, 1954-Jim Wilson/ Milwaukee Braves. Wilson was a journeyman who played for seven different teams in his 12 year career. He later became GM of the Milwaukee Brewers. (You can purchase a 1954 Milwaukee Braves hat here.)

September 25, 1956- Sal Maglie/ Brooklyn Dodgers. Two weeks after throwing this no-hitter against the Phils, Sal the Barber was on the losing end of Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series. (Get the iconic 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers hat here.)

August 18th, 1960- Lew Burdette/ Milwaukee Braves. The Braves beat the Phillies 1-0. Burdette scored the only run of the game.

September 16, 1960- Warren Spahn/ Milwaukee Braves. The 39 year-old lefty became the second Brave pitcher to no-hit the Phillies in less than a month. Both games took place at Milwaukee’s County Stadium.

Nottebart_Don_103

May 17, 1963- Don Nottebart/ Houston Colt .45s. The 20-year old Nottebart (above, celebrating the no-no with teammates) threw the first no-hitter in .45s/Astros history. The Phillies did manage to push a run across, however, thanks to an error and a sac fly.

June 4, 1964- Sandy Koufax/ LA Dodgers. Koufax’s third no-hitter in three years, only rookie Dick Allen reached base, on a walk in the 4th.

July 29th, 1968- George Culver/ Cincinnati Reds. A few years later, Culver would become a member of the Phillies. (Get a 1960s Cincinnati Reds hat here.)

April 17th, 1969- Bill Stoneman/ Montreal Expos. Only the 9th game in the history of the Expos franchise, and only Stoneman’s fifth start in the majors. He would throw another no-no three years later. This would be the last no-hitter pitched against the Phillies on their home field until 2014. (The Phillies were never no-hit at Vet Stadium.) (Purchase a 1969 Expos hat here.)

July 20th, 1970- Bill Singer/ LA Dodgers. Pretty cool: you can listen to Vin Scully call the 9th inning of this no-hitter here.

April 16th, 1972- Burt Hooton/ Chicago Cubs. Hooton is of course best remembered for melting down in the famous Black Friday game in 1977. But five years previous, as a Cubs rookie, he threw a no-hitter against the Phillies in only the 4th start of his career.

April 16th, 1978- Bob Forsch/ St. Louis Cardinals. The last no-hitter thrown against the Phils until Beckett’s on Sunday, it was helped by a controversial call by the official scorer in the 8th inning, giving an error on a play the Phillies thought was a hit by Garry Maddox.

 May 25th, 2014- Josh Beckett/ LA Dodgers. The 5th Dodger pitcher to no-hit the Phillies, the most of any team.


All Philly No-Hitters Broken Up With 2 Outs in the 9th

Herb Pennock Leaning on Railing

With Yu Darvish having his no-hitter broken up with two outs in the 9th (AGAIN!), I thought we’d take a look at all no-hitters broken up with 2 outs in the 9th involving Philly teams. We’ll start with games that Phillies and A’s pitchers lost no-nos in the 9th, then later we’ll look at games in which Philly hitters broke up no-hitters.

April 14th, 1915. Herb Pennock (A’s) vs the Boston Red Sox. This game is particularly notable because it came on Opening Day. The Kennett Square native Pennock (above) mowed down the Red Sox for 8 2/3 innings. Then with two outs in the 9th, up came Harry Hooper. The young Philly lefty reared back, fired, and Hooper hit a bouncer just to the left of the mound. Pennock could have grabbed it, but decided to let his 2nd baseman Nap Lajoie do the honors. Lajoie tried to bare hand it, could not, and Hooper made it to first with a single. Pennock had to settle for a one-hit shutout. It would be the highlight of the disastrous 1915 campaign, not made any better when Mack released Pennock, who was quickly scooped up by those same Red Sox. With the Sox and later the Yankees, Pennock went on to a Hall of Fame career. Mack called releasing him the biggest mistake he ever made.

June 5, 1915. Grover Cleveland Alexander (Phillies) vs the St. Louis Cardinals. Less than 2 months after Pennock’s no-no was spoiled, the great Grover Cleveland lost one as well. With two outs in the 9th, light hitting Arthur Butler, a career .241 hitter, punched a single off of Alexander. It was to be a dominant campaign for the great right hander, as he would throw four one-hitters that season (still an MLB  record), a season that ended with the Phillies in the World Series against the same Red Sox team Pennock nearly no-hit on Opening Day. Incredibly, the two best pitchers in Phillies history (Steve Carlton and Alexander) threw a combined 11 one-hitters and zero no-hitters in their careers.

So there were two near no-hitters for Philly pitchers within two months of each other and there hasn’t been a single one since in the next 99 years. Baseball is a funny game.  But there is one honorable mention, for a guy who pulled off a reverse Yu Darvish. On May 13th, 1954, Robin Roberts gave up a homer to Bobby Adams of the Cincinnati Redlegs to lead off the game. Roberts then mowed down the next 27 guys in order and the Phils won the game 8-1. Another Robin Roberts near no-hitter fun fact: In 1963, while a member of the Orioles, he faced off against Gary Peters of the White Sox. Peters threw a one-hitter, and Roberts had the only hit. It is believed to be the only time a pitcher has had the only hit of a one-hitter. Roberts also once lost a no-hitter with one out in the 9th, but never with two outs.

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Ok, now let’s look at no-hitters Philly batters broke up in the 9th.

shaffor01July 9th, 1890. George Meakim (Louisville Colonels) vs A’s (A different A’s franchise, not the one founded in 1901). With two outs in the 9th, 38 year old George “Orator” Shafer (pictured right) broke up Meakim’s no-hit bid. Orator got his nickname because he talked so much, talking to himself when no-one else was around to listen. Meakim would never come close to another no-hitter, winning 15 games in his short career.

July 23rd, 1896. Cy Young (Cleveland Spiders) vs. Phillies. With two outs in the 9th, Cy Young was one out away from his first ever no-hitter. Unfortunately for him, the man stepping into the batters box was none other than Big Ed Delahanty, who would bat .397 on the year. Delahanty connected on a Young pitch for a clean single, and Young would have to wait another year to collect his first career no-no. You can learn more about his first no-hitter in this pretty cool video.

June 4th, 1908. George “Hooks” Wiltse (NY Giants) vs. Phillies. Right up there with the Armando Galarraga game in terms of controversial perfect games blown. Wiltse had a perfect game going through 8 innings, and the first two Phillies went down meekly in the 9th. Up stepped Phillies pitcher George McQuillan, who was having quite a day at the office as well: he had a shutout going. Wiltse ran the count to 1-2 and then unloaded a strike right down the middle of the plate. Unfortunately for Wiltse, home plate umpire Cy Rigler choked and called it a ball. Shaken, Wiltse hit McQuillan with the next pitch. He calmed down, got the 3rd out, and the game went into extras. In the 10th, the Giants pushed a run across, Wiltse took down the side 1-2-3, keeping his no-hitter intact, though not his perfect game. Rigler later admitted he blew the call, and sent Wiltse cigars for years to try to atone for it.

Dan_GrinerMay 6th, 1918. Dan Griner (Brooklyn Dodgers) vs. Phillies. One look at Griner’s stats, and it’s amazing people didn’t discount wins way before they did. The righty had a perfectly decent 3.49 career ERA, and yet a record of 28-55. On this day, Griner (pictured, left) took the hill for Brooklyn, having not won a game since 1915. In 1916 he was used only in relief, in 1917 he didn’t play at all, and he started 1918 with an 0-3 record. But on this day, he finally seemed to be destined for his moment in the sun. He shut down the Phillies through 8 2/3, and who should come to the plate but our old friend Gavvy Cravath? Cravath cracked a single, spoiling the no-no. Griner did settle down and retire the next batter, however, and get the win. It would be the final win of his Major League career. Griner would be dropped from the team a month later. You can see the box score of that game here.

July 18th, 1972. Steve Arlin (San Diego Padres) vs. the Phillies. After Johan Santana threw that no-hitter last year, the Padres became the answer to the trivia question: what’s the only franchise in baseball to have never thrown a no-hitter? Well, the closest they ever came was in this game in 1972, against the woeful Phillies. That Phillies team is famous for one reason: Steve Carlton won 27 of their 59 games. On this day, Arlin, who had been drafted by the Phillies in 1966, mowed down the Phils easily. With two outs in the 9th, up came Denny Doyle, a career .250 hitter. Arlin quickly ran the count to 1-2. The following comes from an article in Sports Illustrated last year:

That’s when first-year Padres manager Don Zimmer thought Doyle, a lefthanded hitting second baseman, was going to bunt. Zimmer signaled from the dugout to have third baseman Dave Roberts move up about eight feet on the grass.

Doyle, connecting on an inside slider, hit a ball that bounced over Roberts’ head — a ball that he would have been able to field had he been playing in his normal position. Padres shortstop Enzo Hernandez couldn’t make the play.

Arlin gave up a hit to the next batter, too, before closing out the 5-1 win. To this day, he’s still ticked about it.

“It was a case of Zimmer over-managing,” Arlin says. “Zimmer wasn’t the sharpest nail in the toolbox. He was growing into the job, but we knew he (Doyle) wasn’t going to bunt with two strikes. And he never bunted in his life.

“Roberts knew he shouldn’t have been playing in. He took a couple of steps back, but Zimmer waved him in again. If Roberts were back in his regular position, it would have been an easy play. I wasn’t happy. Everything was working.”

After the game, Zimmer knew that he’d made a mistake so came up to Arlin and handed him a razor blade, and “told me to go ahead and use it on him.”

You can check out the box score of that game here.

August 3, 1990. Doug Drabek (Pirates) vs the Phillies. Although the game was in the Vet, by the 9th inning, the home crowd was cheering hard for a no-hitter. After all, it was far more likely than the Phils making up the 11-0 deficit they were in. After Drabek retired Charlie Hayes on a grounder to short and Ricky Jordan swinging, up stepped Campusano, who had replaced Lenny Dykstra in the 7th inning. Drabek ran the count to 3-2. Campusano carried the next pitch to right center and the no-no was over. The home crowd booed, which upset the Phillies. Said Tom Herr, “It’s kind of frustrating when the fans are rooting against the home team.”

You can read about the game here and check out the box score here. After the game, Drabek said,

“I knew (Campusano) was a good fastball hitter. I went inside, but not far enough and he burned me. I wanted (the no-hitter). When you get that close and you don’t get it, it’s hard.”

I’m sure Yu Darvish knows exactly how he feels.

 (hat tip to mikeespress.com, where there was a list of all of these game. Incredible work by those guys putting their list together.)

 

 


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.


The Double Life and Strange Death of Phils Manager Arthur Irwin

I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about former Phillies managers*. By far, the most interesting tale I’ve found has been that of Arthur Irwin, manager of the team from 1894-1895.  He was quite a character. He is credited with adding fingers to the baseball glove (he did so to protect two broken fingers) when he was a player, he was UPenn’s head baseball coach for numerous years, he was an innovator of the electric scoreboard, and as a pro manager he led one of my favorite squads in Phillies history, the mid-1890s squad led by Big Ed Delahanty and lefty catcher Jack Clements. After leaving the Phils, he continued to manage and scout for a number of minor league teams.

But it is his death in July of 1921 that makes him worthy of further study. He had relinquished his position as scout for the Hartford club of the Eastern League a few weeks earlier due to abdominal trouble, caused by stomach cancer (Supposedly. The doctor who diagnosed him was never found). The former Phillie skipper was also suffering from “nervous attacks”. He decided to book a berth on a ship, the Calvin Austin, to ride from New York to Boston. Once at sea, he told a fellow passenger on the steamer, “I am going home to die.” Irwin didn’t make it home. When the steamer pulled up in Boston, Irwin was not on board. As a newspaper reported the next day, “Irwin was with a party of friends aboard the steamer. Members of the party said today that he was depressed when he left them before midnight.”  They never saw him again.

It was a few days after his disappearance that the incredible truth was revealed. The July 20th New York Times screamed: “IRWIN’S DOUBLE LIFE BARED BY SUICIDE” in all caps. It turned out that Irwin had two families, one in Boston, with a wife named Elizabeth and three kids, and another in New York City, with a wife named May and three kids. The New York wife never had any idea she was married to a two-timer. According to the Gettysburg Times on July 22, 1921, “Mrs. Irwin and her son, F. Harold Irwin, first heard of the Boston family from a reporter. They were in the widow’s apartment at 565 West 192nd Street. ‘I cannot believe it,” Mrs. Irwin said. “Since we were married 27 years ago in Philadelphia, Arthur has been a model husband. He was seldom away from home for more than a day or two at a time.'”

Elizabeth, whom Irwin had married first but who he had spent much less time with in the past 30 years, wasn’t quite as unprepared for the news. “I never suspected my husband even when years ago members of my family tried to tell me there was…probably another woman.”  According to the New York Times, “She uttered no blame for her husband, but said the missteps of her husband must have been entirely the fault of the woman in New York.” She further consoled herself with the fact he had been headed for Boston at the time of his death. “I feel confident and happy in the belief that, although he had this other woman in New York, he was on the way to see me when he died-that he knew he was dying and that he turned to me as the woman he really loved at the last. He wanted to die in my arms.”

His death was a compelling human interest story, but it was also a quite a mystery. Did he kill himself because he was so physically ill or because he was so devastated by what he had done? Was he murdered, as perhaps someone knew that he had just made $2000 and were hoping to get their hands on it? Did he die at all, or was it all an elaborate ruse to get out of the hole he had dug for himself? You know, like Elvis. Questions and conspiracy theories abound, spurred on by the mysterious acts of his final days.

Before he hopped on the ship, he sent a check to his “legal” wife Elizabeth in Boston for $500 and a note reading, “God Bless You All”. It was unusual in that he had almost never shipped money home or sent such cryptic notes.

He had made $2000 the day before he boarded the steamer, as he had sold the rights to an electric scoreboard he had helped to create. (You can read about Harvard “watching” the 1920 Rose Bowl on one such scoreboard here. I told you Irwin was an interesting dude.) But the check on the bill of sale was made out to “Seeler”, and no-one named Seeler was ever found. $500 of the sale went to Elizabeth, and the other $1500 went to May in New York. So much for Elizabeth’s claim that he loved her more.

Of course, with any good double life and mysterious death story must come a few conspiracy theories, and this one comes to us courtesy of a great piece on Irwin in the Torontoist:

There were rumours, recounted in David Nemec’s The Great Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Major League Baseball (University of Alabama Press, 2006), that Irwin had withdrawn $5,000 from his account prior to sailing—perhaps enough motive to prompt theft and murder. Others, more compellingly, suggested that because the doctor who’d diagnosed Irwin’s fatal illness had never come forward, he had faked his death. According to a 1922 letter at Cooperstown from a former teammate of Irwin queried: “How can Arthur Irwin be dead? I just saw him in Oklahoma.”

Needless to say, if anyone reading this has any further information about this incredible story, we would love to hear it. I have had little success finding any sort of postcript to this story, and would love to hear how things turned out for both families. Please leave a message in the comments with your email address.

*Fun fact, the Phillies had 22 managers during the time that Connie Mack ran the A’s. In the pic below, that’s Irwin holding the ball and giving the “Heil Fuhrer” salute. Love that photo. Check out the babe on the fence ad. 


The 4th of July on Which Hooks Wiltse Was Nearly Perfect

The Phillies came dragging into their July 4th matchup with the New York Giants in 1908. They had started the season well, but had lost four in a row and five of their last six. The Giants, on the other hand, were red hot, having won 16 of their past 21 games. They had knocked off the Phillies in 6 out of their 8 matchups so far that season, and had won the first two games of this 4-game tilt.

On the hill for the Giants for the first game of that day’s scheduled doubleheader was George “Hooks” Wiltse, who had acquired the nickname not for his curveball, which was devastating, but for his fielding prowess. He was in the midst of what would be a superlative year, as the 28-year old lefty would go 23-14 with a 2.24 ERA.

Wiltse had his famous curveball breaking on this holiday, and each and every Phillie who came to the plate headed right back to the dugout. Unfortunately for the Giants, Phillies pitcher George McQuillan was also in the zone, and through 8 innings the teams were deadlocked at zero.

In the top of the 9th, the first two Phillies went down. Up came McQuillan, who was having a career year (23-17 with a 1.53 ERA) but who would end his career with a pathetic .117 batting average. The count went to 1-2. Wiltse reached  back, fired, and threw a pitch right down the middle. McQuillan’s bat stayed on his shoulder…and umpire Cy Rigler’s hand stayed by his side. Ball two. Shaken, Wiltse would hit McQuillan with his next pitch. The perfect game was ruined. Wiltse got the next hitter out, and the game went to the bottom of the 9th. The Giants went down quietly, and out came Wiltse for the 10th. Once again the Phils went down 1-2-3, and finally, in the bottom of the 10th, the Giants pushed a run across the plate to take a 1-0 victory.

Wiltse is still one of only 3 men in MLB history to throw a 10-inning no-hitter (the others are Fred Toney in 1917 and Jim Maloney in 1965. Interestingly, both guys played for the Reds. In 1997, two Pirates combined to pitch a 10-inning no-hitter.), and one of only three men to throw a no-hitter on the 4th of July (along with Tigers’ pitcher George Mullin in 1912 and Yankees pitcher Dave Righetti in 1983). And if it wasn’t for Cy Rigler’s blown call, he would probably have thrown the only 10-inning perfect game in MLB history (unless, like me, you count Harvey Haddix’s 12 perfect innings. The MLB does not). It was not unlike the infamous Galarraga/Joyce game, as Rigler later apologized for blowing the call, and according to Wiltse’s bio on SABR, “spent years giving Wiltse cigars to atone for it.”


Article About Baker Bowl Written in 1937

The Phils played their final game at the Baker Bowl on June 30th, so today I’m gonna post a couple of things about Baker Bowl. I really liked this piece, written about Baker Bowl, in 1937 by a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. Gonna post some pics and videos soon.


The Biggest Loser

You’ll find former Phillies pitcher John Coleman all over the record books, though I doubt he’d be happy to know that he’s still there. Coleman was the loser on opening day of the Phillies very first game, and it was a feeling the 20-year old would get to know quite well. He would march onto the mound as a starter 61 times that season, and take 48 losses, ending the year with a record of 12-48 (despite a bad but not historically awful 4.87 ERA. In other words, he was better than Joe Blanton is this year, at 6-6, 5.04 ERA). When he wasn’t pitching, he was playing the field, doing time at both first base and in the outfield.

Of course, the 1883 Phillies had no other options. Their number two pitcher, Art Hagen, went 1-14 with a 5.45 ERA. Funny story about Hagen: He was from Rhode Island, so when the Phillies travelled up to Rhode Island for a game, the manager decided to pitch Hagan in an effort to increase attendance. He would be facing Hall of Famer Old Hoss Radbourn. The game did draw a crowd, but their native son gave them little to cheer for, as the Phillies lost 28-0, still the most lopsided shutout loss in MLB history.

Back to Coleman: In 1884, he started the year for the Phillies, but switched over to the Athletics of the American Association, aka the “Beer and Whiskey League”, midway through the season (that franchise had no relation to the A’s of Connie Mack). Once in the AA, he was used almost exclusively as a fielder. He actually became a pretty decent hitter in the AA as well, batting .299 with 70 RBIs in 1885. He headed out west to Pittsburgh, where he played for both the AA team and the NL team. He hung up the cleats after an 1890 season with the Pirates, presumably hoping that someday someone would break that awful record. They never did, and barring the advent of the 760 game season, they never will. John Coleman is an eternal record holder. When it comes to pitching, he will always be baseball’s biggest loser. And still better than Joe Blanton.

 


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.


This Date in Phillies History: Mike Schmidt Says Goodbye

On May 29, 1989, Michael Jack Schmidt announced his retirement from Major League Baseball.

Schmidt played out 42 games of the 1989 season, but stepped away from the game just prior to his 43rd.  He announced his retirement at Jack Murphy Stadium before the Phillies took the field against the Padres.

Nagging injuries and age had caught up with the 39-year-old infielder.  He missed the last two months of the ’88 season after undergoing shoulder surgery.  His struggles to open the ’89 season led him to admit that he simply couldn’t do it anymore.  He was hitting only .203 with 6 HR at the time of his retirement.  He was mired in a 2-41 slump at the plate and was leading the Phillies with 8 errors. In his tearful speech, the opening of which is below, he said: “Over the years, I’ve set high standards for myself as a player, and I always said that when I couldn’t live up to those standards I would retire. I no longer have the skills needed to make adjustments at the plate to hit or to make some plays in the field and run the bases.”

Schmidt retired with 548 career home runs, 3 NL MVP Awards, a World Series MVP Award, 10 Golden Gloves, 6 Silver Slugger Awards, and 12 All-Star Game appearances.  He led the National League in home runs 8 times and in RBI 4 times.  In 1995, he was inducted as a first ballot Hall of Famer.