1907, a Mystery, a Myth, a Repeat, and Two of the Greatest...
The Chicago Cubs steamrolled through the National League once again. Coming off of their record setting one hundred sixteen win season in '06, the 1907 edition won one hundred seven games, and far outpaced the second place Pittsburgh Pirates by seventeen games.
The Cubs would also steamroll their American League opponent Detroit Tigers in the World Series, winning four games to none, with one tie. The Tigers won their pennant by a game and a half over the Philadelphia Athletics, winning ninety-two games in the process.
The fifth and deciding game in Detroit drew just 7,370 fans, the second lowest attendance for a World Series game.
The Cubs, with their win over the Tigers, became the first franchise to win multiple World Championships. They would win a third title in 1908, and then wait, well, you know how long by this point.
The league's power rankings, which measures a balance between pitching and offense, looked like this at the end of the regular season:
- CubsWorld Series ChampionsPirates2nd in NL, 16 games behindTigersAL ChampionsAthletics2nd in AL, 4 games behindWhite Sox3rd in AL, 5 games behind
In 1906, the Cubs were upset in the World Series by the “Hitless Wonder” Chicago White Sox. As an historical curiosity, during the 1907, as the White Sox were raising their World Championship flag, the flagpole snapped in two.
In an effort to clear up any doubt about the origination of baseball, former player and then current sporting goods magnate Albert Spalding called for a national committee to begin a long-term investigation as to baseball's true origin.
That committee, which was organized in 1905, contained several handpicked baseball experts to do the work and appointed former National League President Abraham Mills to be the chairman. The Mills Commission would release its findings in December, 1907.
But first, a little historical background...Henry Chadwick (inventor of baseball's box score) wrote an article explaining baseball's relation to Rounders, which was widely accepted by most people. Most, that is, except for Abraham Mills and Albert Spalding. Spalding, in fact, called out Chadwick's account in his 1905 edition of Spalding's Guide, and spoke of being taunted around the world over baseball's coming from rounders.
“...I am now convinced that Base Ball did not originate from rounders, any more than Cricket originated from that asinine pastime”
Spalding claimed that baseball was uniquely American, and can be traced back to a game called “one old cat” that was played during Colonial times. (How that game differs from rounders is beyond me, but I digress...) Mills, like Spalding, did not like the allegations that baseball originated from an English game.
In December of 1907, they released the results of their exhaustive research, in which they put forth the story that Abner Doubleday, of Cooperstown, New York, developed and invented baseball.
Doubleday, a Union general during the Civil War, who actually fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter, made no mention of baseball, or any sport, similar to it in any of his writings. While he was an important man in the history of our Nation, his being credited with being the “Father of Baseball” seems to be undeserved.
The biggest piece of evidence uncovered by the Commission was a letter from a 'reputable gentleman' named Abner Graves. Graves, who by this time was living in Denver, was brought up in Cooperstown, and recalled day in 1839, he and some boys were playing marbles behind a tailor shop. They watched Abner Doubleday draw a diamond shaped diagram in the dirt, and explained the game to them. He added a rule that the 'put-out' had to be made by touching the base or the runner. (In rounders, and 'one old cat, the runners needed to be hit by a thrown ball to be 'out'). Doubleday also named the game 'baseball'.
Spalding and Mills were thrilled to have such a patriotic and esteemed person such as Major-General Doubleday be the one to have devised such a great game, and they heralded the announcement. The commission also announced that baseball “has no traceable connection whatever with 'Rounders' or any other foreign game.”
Mills, who was a close personal friend of Doubleday for almost twenty-five years, was not even aware that Doubleday had 'invented' baseball until the results of the commission was released. The only shred of any sort of evidence that even ties Doubleday to baseball may be that in acting as an Army morale officer, Doubleday was able to secure the balls and bats for the men to play the game.
Curiously, the letter from Graves, along with any other evidence gleaned by the commission, were destroyed in a fire in 1911.
A few years after the release of the report, and the start of the legend, a trunk belonging to Mr. Graves was found in a farmhouse in New York. Inside was a dust covered, torn-up, battered ball. Cooperstown resident Stephen Clark purchased the ball for $5. Clark, who was an investor in the Singer Sewing Machine Company, decided to put the ball on display in the Cooperstown Village Club, where the idea was conceived to create a museum dedicated to baseball, its history and its legends.
That ball is still on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame, described as the 'Abner Doubleday baseball'.
To this day, the Hall of Fame Game (along with dozens of youth baseball tournaments, are played at Doubleday Field, in the shadows of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Now, we'll go around the league looking at milestones and curiosities.
In Brooklyn, Harry Lumley finished the season with nine homers, exactly half of his team's season total. That had been done thirteen times in National League history, but Lumley and Wally Berger were the only ones to do it more than once. Lumley did it twice, and Berger three times.
(For comparison sake, Babe Ruth did it in the American League just twice)
In Cincinnati, pitcher Ed “Cotton” Minahan became the first to play in the big leagues after being an Olympian. Minahan competed in Track and Field in the Paris Olympics of 1900. Jim Thorpe would be the next (and last) to do so (except for those who appeared by playing baseball). Thorpe competed in the Decathlon during the Stockholm games of 1912.
Albert Spalding, yes, the same guy from the Doubleday story, also appeared in the 1900 games, in Shooting.
Albert Spalding, yes, the same guy from the Doubleday story, also appeared in the 1900 games, in Shooting.
In St. Louis, Ed Konetchy stole home twice, and Joe Delahanty stole home once for the Cardinals against the Boston Doves.
For the Pirates, rookie pitcher Nick Maddox made his debut in September with a two-hit, fourteen strikeout performance over the Cardinals. Two starts later, the twenty-year old tossed a no-hitter against the Dodgers, the first no-no by a Pirates pitcher. He would finish the season with a 5-1 record.
In New York, Giants catcher Roger Bresnahan became the first catcher to wear shin guards. He wore them under his trousers at first. During the season, he would be hit in the head by a pitched ball. So severe was the injury was given last rites, before he recovered and returned to the field.
In Chicago, pitcher Doc White became the first White Sox pitcher to lead the American League in wins, tying with Cleveland Naps hurler Addie Joss, who was the first to lead for his franchise as well.
And Naps hitter Bill Bradley established a still standing record of forty-six sacrifice hits.
In St. Louis, shortstop Bobby Wallace of the Browns was reportedly the highest paid player in baseball. According to a report from the Washington Post, Wallace raked in a whopping $6,500 in 1907.
In Washington, the Senators took advantage of an injury to New York Highlander Red Kleinow forced Branch Rickey, who was nursing a shoulder injury, to be behind the plate. The Senators proceeded to steal a record thirteen bases against Rickey, who by all accounts was pressed into service too soon after his own injury. Rickey wouldn't catch another game that season.
Senator's rookie pitcher Walter Johnson started his first game during the season.. The twenty-one year old lost to the Tigers, 3-2. The first hit he gave up was a bunt single to Ty Cobb.
In Detroit, apart from the aforementioned Ty “The Georgia Peach” Cobb, pitcher George Mullin became the first and only twenty-game loser to pitch in a World Series game. And Bill Donovan established a Tiger's record for winning percentage, winning at an .862 clip. That record would stand until Max Scherzer reached .875 in 2013.
But getting back to Cobb...1907 was the first of his twelve consecutive seasons of thirty or more stolen bases, the first of his twelve league batting titles, and the first of three consecutive Runs Batted In titles. (he was also the first Tiger to lead the league in RBI). The legendary Cobb is the first American League to lead the league in stolen bases AND total bases in the same season.
From 1907-1919 Cobb's batting average was better than the American league's slugging percentage over that same time.
Interestingly, the Tigers tried to trade Cobb to Cleveland for outfielder Elmer Flick, one for one, but the Naps turned the offer down. Reportedly due to Tiger manager Hughie Jennings' frustration over Cobb's abrasive personality.
Legendary Pirate shortstop Honus “The Flying Dutchman” Wagner also became the first to lead the National League in Runs Batted In for three straight seasons, also beginning in 1907. He became the first National Leaguer to steal 2nd, 3rd and home in the same game.
So, two of the game's greatest hitters each began an amazing run of batting dominance that ran concurrent with each other. With baseball, especially with the two league format which we have now, it makes me wonder if the fans of the day appreciated what they were seeing at the time.
But the story that overshadowed the season, at least the start of the season was in Boston.
Red Sox manager Chick Stahl had taken over the reins following the suspension of his friend Jimmy Collins. That combined with new owners that were not happy with the team's performance in 1906, named Stahl the manager in December of 1906.
On the 28th of March, during Spring Training in West Baden, Indiana, Stahl took his own life by drinking carbolic acid. He left behind a cryptic suicide note that said “Boys, I just couldn't help it. It drove me to it.”
To this day, no one knows exactly what “it” was. I have read many different suspicions and theories on the matter, but we will never know for sure. By all accounts, he was a care-free type who had many lovers across the country. Perhaps it was guilt over his indiscretions or guilt over having to discharge his friend Collins from the team. Perhaps it was a threat from a jealous spouse (or two, or three). Perhaps it was alcohol abuse.
Whatever the reason, the drinking of the carbolic acid (four ounces by most accounts) led him to a painful death, causing the victim to “suffer the greatest of agonies, before they finally shuffle”.
According to one of the reports I read, his wife Julia, passed away the following year also under mysterious circumstances. She had been seen lavishly dressed, while walking in one of the poor sections of Boston. No one saw what happened, but she was found lying in a tenement doorway.
According to the Pittsburgh Press article of November 16, 1908, “So striking was her appearance that when she turned onto a dark street, several persons followed her.”
No one saw exactly what happened, but she was found lying in a tenement doorway. She had allegedly been addicted to drugs, and had attempted suicide herself in her past. The cause of death was ruled to be an alcohol and drug overdose.
Pitcher Cy Young took over control of the team, reluctantly. After six games, he gave way to George Huff, who managed eight games. Bob Unglaub managed the next twenty-nine before Deacon McGuire helmed the rest. The Red Sox finished with fifty-nine wins and ninety losses.
But Stahl, who is the only man to commit suicide while an active manager, may have been the biggest loss of all.
But to the stats for the 1907 season, we'll start with the American league offense, where the league batting average was .247, but it still performed 8% better than the National League, and their .243 average. This was a pitching rich time, and was in the middle of baseball's 'dead ball' era. Combined, both leagues averaged scoring 3.35 runs per game, compared to the 2016 season, where teams averaged scoring 4.48 runs per game, with a .255 league batting average.
The top ten initial performances in the American league were:
- PlayerTeamHRRBIAVGSBRCGTy CobbTigers5119.350531.41Sam CrawfordTigers481.323181.24Harry DavisAthletics887.266201.09Hal ChaseHighlanders268.287321.10Elmer FlickNaps358.302410.92Davy JonesTigers027.273301.02Socks SeyboldAthletics592.271100.99Joe DelahantyBrowns/Senators260.279240.78George StoneBrowns459.320230.85Kid ElberfeldHighlanders051.271220.93
The team offensive rankings were:
Then, compared to their team averages, we get this list of top performers:
- Elmer FlickAboveTy CobbAboveJoe DelahantyAboveJohn AndersonSenators044.288190.89George StoneAboveNap LajoieNaps263.301240.83Harry DavisAboveSam CrawfordAboveBob UnglaubRed Sox162.254140.79Buck CongaltonRed Sox/Naps249.282130.70
Which brings our list of top ten American League hitters to this:
Going over to the National League, we get this top ten list:
- Honus WagnerPirates682.350611.23Sherry MageePhillies485.325461.11Fred ClarkePirates259.289371.04Roger BresnahanGiants438.253150.83Tommy LeachPirates443.303430.95Frank ChanceCubs149.293350.95Johnny KlingCubs143.28490.83Ed AbbaticchioPirates282.262350.97Cy SeymourGiants375.294100.90John TitusPhillies363.27590.91
The National League offensive rankings were:
So, compared to their teams averages:
- Sherry MageeAboveHonus WagnerAboveHarry LumleyDodgers966.267180.82Ginger BeaumontBoston Doves462.322250.83Red MurrayCardinals746.262230.64Dave BrainDoves1056.279100.80John TitusAboveFrank ChanceAboveJohnny KlingAboveLarry McLeanReds054.28940.79
Which brings our final list of top National League hitters to:
Now switching over to the pitchers, where the pitchers far outperformed the hitters by 26.5%. This being the heart of the 'dead-ball' era, where station to station baseball was the name of the game. Where batters choked up on the bats, and placed the ball between fielders, or bunted to reach base. Where balls fouled into the stands were returned to the field of play whenever possible. Where a game could take place using just one or two balls for the entire afternoon. Where spit-balls, shine-balls and grease-balls were all legal.
It was a much different game than we see twenty years later. And even further than we see today.
First, we'll look at the National League pitchers, who had a 3% statistical advantage over their American League counterparts, and a 33.6% advantage over the hitters. The National Leaguers had to contend with the almost unhittable Cubs pitching staff (who finished the season with an incredible 1.73 team earned run average, and giving up less than seven hits per nine innings). The Cubs had one pitcher lose as many as nine games, but just the one. Reliever Jack Taylor was the weak link (?) on the staff, with a winning percentage of just .583. The Cubs won a pretty fair 107 games. I say that because the 1906 Cubs won 116 games.
That being said, a very top heavy listing of top ten pitching performances overall. Here is that list, featuring the runs allowed factor before earned runs allowed:
- PitcherTeamW-LRAFERACarl LundgrenCubs18-71.831.17Orval OverallCubs23-72.081.68Mordecai BrownCubs20-61.971.39Ed RuelbachCubs17-42.251.69Tully SparksPhillies22-82.652.00Christy MathewsonGiants24-122.512.00Vic WillisPirates21-112.952.34Jim PastoriousBrooklyn Superbas16-123.002.35Jack PfiesterCubs14-92.821.15Sam LeeverPirates14-92.911.66
The Team pitching rankings were:
So, comparing pitchers with their team performances, we get this top ten list:
- Ed KargerCardinals15-192.922.04Patsy FlahertyBoston12-153.732.70Tully SparksAboveJim PastoriousAboveChristy MathewsonAboveBob EwingReds17-192.811.73Nap RuckerBrooklyn15-133.072.06Andy CoakleyReds17-163.292.34Johnny LushCardinals/Phillies10-153.802.64Carl Lundgrenabove
So our top ten final rankings for National League pitchers are:
Swinging to the American League, the top initial rankings brings us this:
- Addie JossCleveland27-112.661.83Doc WhiteWhite Sox27-132.882.26Ed KillianTigers25-132.951.78Cy YoungRed Sox21-152.651.99Chief BenderAthletics16-82.752.05Eddie PlankAthletics24-163.012.20Ed WalshWhite Sox24-182.561.60Frank SmithWhite Sox23-103.052.47Jake ThielmanCleveland11-83.252.33Ed SieverTigers18-112.922.16
The league pitching rankings were:
That brings this list of top pitchers compared to their teams:
- Cy YoungAboveAddie JossAboveCharlie SmithSenators10-203.582.61Fred GladeBrowns13-93.612.67Jack ChesboroHighlanders10-103.632.53Doc WhiteAboveChief BenderAboveHarry HowellBrowns16-153.191.93Slow Joe DoyleHighlanders11-114.002.65George WinterRed Sox12-153.192.07Jimmy DygertAthletics21-83.372.34
That brings our overall American league pitching final rankings to:
Since this era was without post-season awards, once again I have free reign to pick the best players for each league. Pitchers dominate the lists, but interestingly, a hitter tops each list.
In the American League, my final top five rankings are:
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
PITCHER OF THE YEAR
And in the National League, the final top five are:
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
PITCHER OF THE YEAR