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.”
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.
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.
The history of sports in Philadelphia is littered with characters that seem more fit for fiction than for reality. Right up there in the Bizarre Hall of Fame is Horace S. Fogel, a former Phillies owner whose career began in sportswriting and ended with a lifetime ban from baseball. This is his story.
Fogel was a Pennsylvania native, born in Macungie, Lehigh County in 1861. He started out as a telegrapher and then began a career in journalism at the Baltimore Day. He returned to Philadelphia in 1883 and was offered a job at the Philadelphia Press, where he was in charge of the telegraph service but covered baseball for extra money. At the time, newspapers weren’t covering the sport and Fogel found a niche by publishing several columns a day. The next year he took a job as official scorekeeper for the Athletics, getting his foot in the door of professional baseball.
In 1887, he was hired as manager of the Indianapolis Hoosiers of the National League and led them to a last place finish. His managerial stint lasted less than a year and ended with a 20-49 record. After his unsuccessful bid to manage a pro ball club, he went back to journalism and became associate editor of the Sporting Life as well as head of the baseball department at the Philadelphia Public Ledger.
After 15 more years in sportswriting, Fogel was again given a job as skipper, this time for the New York Giants in 1902. His second attempt at managing was literally laughable. The press was highly critical of Fogel, who was deemed “hardly fitted” to manage the team. He openly criticized players which “stirred up discord, and the team which left Polo Grounds early in May harmonious to a man returned on Decoration Day nearly split in twain by dissension.” Most notable from his time with the Giants was his managing of Christy Mathewson, the second year pitcher who won 20 games in his rookie year. Fogel didn’t think much of Mathewson’s skills on the mound, so Fogel converted him to a first baseman, then an outfielder, then a shortstop. Fogel was hammered for this decision, which was referred to as “the baseball crime of the century.” Luckily, Fogel was fired just three months into his tenure. Mathewson was put back where he belonged and went on to a Hall of Fame career of 373 wins and a lifetime 2.31 ERA.
From 1902 through 1909, Fogel again went back to the sports page. He was the sporting editor for the Philadelphia Telegraph. By this time in his career, he was a known commodity: a loudmouthed front-runner with little-to-no credibility. When the local teams weren’t doing well, he crushed them. When they strung a few wins together, he announced they were unbeatable. He had no problem overstating his opinions and often feuded with players in print.
So in November of 1909, when it was announced that Fogel had purchased the Philadelphia Phillies, the public was more than surprised. First, with Fogel’s unsuccessful managerial track record, people were concerned about the state of the team. And second, everyone knew Fogel couldn’t have come up with the $350,000.00 to $500,000.00 that bought the team. The not so unspoken rumor was that the Taft family of Cincinnati and Charles Murphy, President of the Chicago Cubs, were the real financial owners of the Phillies and were simply using Fogel as a figurehead. One would think that one man with a stake in two National League teams would be an issue, but other than some reporters questioning the deal, no real investigation was conducted.
Fogel brought immediate and drastic change to the Phillies. He fired manager William Murray with a letter that read, in its entirety: “The Philadelphia Baseball Club no longer requires your services.” Murray was replaced Charles “Red” Dooin, the Phillies’ catcher since 1902. Fogel completely revamped the uniforms, going from the classic black trim on white or grey with black socks seen here to green on white with a large Old-English “P” and green striped socks. Fogel also didn’t like the name of the team, so he changed it. He was quoted as saying:
The name Phillies is too trite. It has come to mean a comfortable lackadaisicalness, the fourth-place groove. And Quakers stands for peaceful people who will dodge a fight. We’re not going to be that way. We’re going to get into fights.
And with that explanation he urged everyone to adopt his new name for the National League club: The Philadelphia Live Wires. To promote the name, Fogel even came up with a new “logo,” which featured an eagle grasping sparkling wires. Thankfully, other than a few references in newspaper articles in 1910, the new name didn’t stick and fans continued referring to the team as the Phillies.
Fogel’s antics continued through his ownership years and his pregame festivities were memorable. In addition to a concert before every home game, he often held three-ring-circuses on the field before the games. He once had a couple married in a lion cage on the pitcher’s mound with a lion serving as the witness to the nuptials. Another time he released 100 pigeons in the city with free tickets to the next game attached to their legs.
His gimmicks didn’t lead to much success on the field. In 1910, the Phillies finished three games above .500 and in 4th place in the NL; 1911 brought another 4th place finish (even with rookie Pete Alexander’s 28 win season); and in 1912, the Phillies finished in 5th place.
It was in the latter stages of the 1912 season that Fogel stepped over the line. At that point in the season, the New York Giants were pulling away from the Chicago Cubs for the pennant. Fogel was known to be a drinker and card-player and he maintained close relationships with his newspaper buddies. So in August and September of the 1912 season, with the Phillies well out of the race, Fogel was seen drinking more and more with his old pals. When the alcohol was flowing, so was Fogel’s mouth. He started a one-man campaign accusing the National League of a conspiracy theory to give the New York Giants the pennant over his Phillies (who finished 30.5 games back) and the Cubs (whose ownership Fogel was inextricably linked with).
The conspirators in his theory included not only league brass, but also other National League teams. He first accused St. Louis manager Roger Bresnahan of not fielding his regulars in games against the Giants and throwing the games in favor of the New York team. Then he wrote about the “fix” to everyone who would listen and published several articles about it in a few separate newspapers. He wrote a letter to Thomas Lynch, league president, stating his position that Lynch had instructed umpires to call games in favor of the Giants and against the Phillies in a plot to ensure the Giants would win the pennant. In September, he wired the owner of the Reds and stated that the pennant race was “crooked.” He published an article in a Chicago newspaper that alleged the Giants “won at least twenty-one games because of unfair umpiring.” He also wrote to seven other owners of teams in the National League calling the pennant race dishonest and insinuating he had proof of wrongdoing.
The league finally had enough of Fogel’s charges. Lynch, who didn’t even mask his feeling that Fogel wasn’t the real owner of the team, responded:
As far as President Fogel’s attacks on the President of the National League is concerned, I care nothing. My 25 years’ record in baseball speaks for itself. The cowardly attack on the honesty of the umpires and the game itself is a different matter, however, and cannot be overlooked. I shall take these charges of President Fogel before the board of directors of the National League, which has sole jurisdiction. Regardless of whether Mr. Fogel has a financial interest in the Philadelphia Club or not, he is the president of that organization, and the charges he makes can only be handled by the league itself.
A league investigation of Fogel’s baseless charges turned out to be the worst thing that could have happened for him. After a short investigation which turned up no evidence at all, Lynch charged Fogel with several counts of improper conduct and called a hearing to take place in New York on November 27, 1912. All of the National League owners were present and heard testimony from several witnesses over the course of two days. Fogel’s only defense was that the charges were moot and the National League had no jurisdiction over him. Fogel had resigned as the Phillies’ President 5 days before the hearing and named Alfred Wiler, the Phillies’ VP, his successor. Fogel’s weak attempt to avoid punishment didn’t work. In a vote of 7-0 with one abstention (Wilner), Fogel was found to have lodged unsubstantiated claims against the integrity of the game and was deemed guilty of Lynch’s charges. His punishment was severe: Fogel was forever banned from baseball.
After the decision, Fogel claimed “the jury was packed against [him]” and that he wouldn’t obey the decision. He stated, “I will sell or represent as I please, the Philadelphia club in the National League as long as I feel inclined to do so and no one can disturb me from doing so.” Fogel also threatened to bring this matter to the court system.
However loud Fogel’s bite after his censure, his bite was non-existent. There was defiant refusal to submit to the decision, no appeal to the court system, no nothing…Fogel was out of baseball.
His reporting career continued in true Fogel-fashion. In 1920, he published an article in the Inquirer charging that both the the 1905 World Series and 1908 World Series were fixed. He cited “sources” who alleged that Athletic’s pitcher Rube Waddell didn’t pitch in the 1905 series because New York gamblers bribed him with $17,000 and that during the pennant race in ’08, several Phillies were paid thousands of dollars by a member of the NY Giants to sit out games. Not surprisingly, these claims were unsubstantiated and flatly rejected as falsehoods.
Fogel lived out the rest of his life in Philadelphia and died in 1928 at the age of 66.
We are all lucky that the public saw Fogel for what he was: an eccentric sideshow. Otherwise, we might all be wearing green shirseys with “Live Wires” on the front.
Here’s a rather unusual photo of Matty McIntyre, who played for the A’s in 1901. Funny how it looks like he has shattered the glass with the throw. Matty played just one season for the A’s before he was shipped to Detroit. The photo was possibly taken at Columbia Park at what is now 29th and Cecil B. Moore.
McIntyre had a few fairly successful seasons in Detroit, but he is best known for leading the Tigers players in their relentless hazing of Southern superstar Ty Cobb. McIntyre and Cobb hated each other, and refused to speak even when playing in the outfield together. There were several fistfights between the two men in the dugout. McIntyre hated Cobb so much that when Nap Lajoie edged Cobb for the batting title one year, Matty and a few other Tigers sent Lajoie a telegram congratulating him. McIntyre died in 1920 of kidney failure at age 39.
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.
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).
Sometimes, I come across something so insane, so ridiculous, that I have to find a way to tie to Philadelphia, no matter how tentative the connection. This is one of those times. Mike Grady was born in Kennett Square, and started his career for the Phillies, so there’s your connection. But it was a couple of things he did while a member of the Giants that makes this story worth writing.
In 1899, Grady had a ground ball hit to him while playing third base. He bobbled it, committing error number one. He then scooped it up and threw it to first, sailing it over the first baseman’s head. Error #2. The right fielder chased it down, and noticed the runner taking off for third. He threw it to Grady. The ball bounced off his glove and headed to the outfield. The runner broke for home. Grady ran, grabbed the ball, and still had a shot at glory, if he could just nail the runner at the plate. He could not. The ball went sailing over the catchers glove, giving poor Mike Grady 4 errors in one play.
However, the Chester County native would go from goat to hero less than a year later. He was walking to the Polo Grounds with teammates Kid Gleason (who would later manage the Black Sox) and George Davis. They saw smoke and flames rising from an apartment building. Davis scurried up a fire escape and rescued a woman from the 3rd floor. Gleason and Grady ran up to the 4th floor, rescuing a Mrs. Tibbets and her 3 year old. Grady then ran back up to the 3rd floor and helped to rescue a Mrs. Pease. The three players then made their way to the ballpark, where they tied the Boston Beaneaters 10-10. In September of that year, Grady and Davis were both involved in what is believed to be the first triple steal in MLB history. Grady retired to Kennett Square, where he passed away in 1943 at age 73. He is in the Chester County Hall of Fame.
Interesting story in today’s Inquirer about Philly track star John Taylor. I don’t think I had ever heard of him:
The first relay race in Olympic history – a sprint medley consisting of two 200-meter legs, a 400 and an 800 – was held later on July 25, and the U.S. team won easily. Taylor ran the 400 in 49.8 seconds. One of those 200 legs was run by his fellow Penn Quaker, Nate Cartmell, and the 800 by Mal Sheppard, a former Brown Prep teammate.
(Though he was the first to earn gold, Taylor was not the first African American to medal at an Olympics. In 1904, two track and field competitors, Joe Stadler and George Poage, essentially competing for their club teams, had combined to win three medals – a silver and two bronzes.)
After the Games, Taylor stayed in Europe to compete, returning to Philadelphia that fall. At some point, he contracted typhus, fell ill and died at his parents’ home on Dec. 2.
I went out to Valley Forge yesterday to do a little hiking with the dog, and the wife let me duck my head into the Expo, where a baseball card and sports memorabilia show was going on. I was hoping to talk to Dick Allen, who was signing autographs, but there was a long line waiting on him, so instead I talked with a couple of guys who had some really neat old Philadelphia cards and keepsakes (I’ll have some pretty cool video up in the next few days). On a whim, I decided to grab an old cigarette card. I used to collect baseball cards as a kid, but I’d never had a cigarette card. I wanted to get a local guy, and I didn’t want to get in trouble with the old lady by spending too much on a card, so I bought the cheapest local guy they had. The guys name was Simon Nicholls, and he played for the A’s just over 100 years ago.
There’s something about buying a fella’s baseball card that makes you feel like you’ve got some sort of connection with him, and needless to say, I was anxious to get home and do some research on this Nicholls character. Every player has a story, and I was interested to see what his would be. It turned out that by picking up the random card of the cheapest guy on the table, I stumbled across a heartbreaking tragedy.