Athletics You Should Know: Wally Schang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Babe Calls It a Career in Philly

On May 25th, 1935, the Babe, playing out his career as a member of the Boston Braves, put on a show in Pittsburgh. He went 4-4 with 3 Home Runs and 6 RBIs. In the two movies that depicted the Babe’s career (The Babe Ruth Story in 1948 and The Babe in 1992), it was portrayed as his final game. It was not. The Babe played in 5 more games, the last of which came at Baker Bowl against the Phillies on Memorial Day, May 30th. It did not provide much of a Hollywood ending.

The following comes from the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society:

Ruth was inserted in the line-up, batting third and playing leftfield. Coming up to bat in the first inning, Ruth faced Phillies’ pitcher Jim Bivin. 1935 was Bivin’s only year in the Major Leagues, and he played the entire season with the Phillies. He compiled an unenviable 2-9 record for a woeful team that would finish the season in seventh place with a 56-93 record. Bivin, nevertheless, would have the singular distinction of being the last pitcher ever to face Babe Ruth in a Major League game.

At the plate, Ruth grounded out softly to Phillies first baseman Dolph Camilli as the Braves went down without scoring any runs in the inning. Ruth took his customary place in the outfield for the bottom half of the inning. Phillies’ second baseman Lou Chiozza hit a soft fly to leftfield. Ruth came in trying to make the catch, but the ball dropped in front of him and rolled past him to the wall. A run scored, but Chiozza, trying for an inside-the-park home run, was thrown out at the plate when Braves shortstop Bill Urbanski retrieved the ball and got it back to Braves catcher Al Spohrer in time for the tag out. The Phillies wound up scoring three runs in the inning and would go on to win the game 11-6.

The Babe, frustrated, took himself out of the game after the first inning. The Babe had already stated that this would be the last road trip of his career, so the fans, aware that this was to be his final appearance in Philadelphia, gave him a loud ovation. The following comes from Rich Westcott’s book Philadelphia’s Old Ballparks:

As the inning ended, Ruth tucked his glove in his pocket, turned, and ran to the clubhouse in centerfield. The fans, sensing that the end of a glorious career might have arrived, rose and gave Ruth a standing ovation.

Catcher Joe Holden and trainer Leo (Red) Miller were in the Phillies clubhouse when Ruth clattered up the stairs past Boston’s first-floor clubhouse and burst through the door into the home team’s locker room. “Red turned and said, ‘Hello, Babe. Is there anything I can do?’ He thought he might have pulled a muscle,” Holden remembered. “Babe said, ‘No, no, there’s nothing you can do for old age. I’ve just had too many good days to have this happen to me.’ Then I saw Red shake hands with the Babe. It didn’t register at the time that Babe’s career was over.”

RELATED: The 1929 World Series Project.

Phils face Babe and the Red Sox in the 1915 World Series.

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Wilson Valdez: the next Babe Ruth?

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.