1917 and Wars...Literal and Figurative
Ed. Note: Sorry for the delay in between postings...started a new job, then a newer job, which has be working crazy hours. And, well, life happens.
1917 saw the United States become involved in the 'War to End All Wars'. As a quick refresher, the U.S. Decided that it would not intervene in the war, and President Woodrow Wilson won re-election by keeping America out of the conflict, while trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement among the warring nations.
Wilson's main concern was the submarine attacks on passenger ships, like the RMS Lusitania, which was sunk by a U-Boat in 1915. President Wilson negotiated a settlement with Germany, but let them know that the U.S. Would not tolerate 'unrestricted submarine warfare in violation of international law'.
Germany complied for a time, but in January, 1917, the resumed their aggression.
Furthermore, they reached out to Mexico, and invited them to join with the Central Powers, in exchange, Germany would aid Mexico in a war with the United States in an effort to reclaim Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
This message was intercepted and made public to the American public, as the President classified it an Act of War. Congress officially declared War in April, 1917.
Baseball would feel the effects of the war effort. Attendance was down across the league. The Washington Senators would draw less than 90,000 fans in 77 home games. The American economy was beginning to suffer, and the looming threat of players being lost to conscription, enlistment and other war efforts led to an uneasiness throughout organized ball.
On an historic note, Boston Braves catcher Hank Gowdy became the first Major Leaguer to enlist, seeing action in France with the 166th Ohio regiment.
Baseball also was dealing with 'wars' of their own, but obviously to a much lesser extent. The first being the threat of a strike by the 'Players Fraternity'.
The Players Fraternity was essentially a union, founded in in 1912 by former player Dave Fultz. It was established to help players get protection, to help insure that terms of the player contracts were fulfilled. It was an entity that was looking out for the best interest of the players.
The 'strike' that was threatened was ostensibly to abolish the '10 day Clause', in which a team could stop paying a player who suffered an injury after 10 games of inactivity, but they would still be under contract to their team, due to baseball's reserve clause.
After several negotiations, the Fraternity decided, on February 14th, 1917 to not go through with the work stoppage, after gaining several concessions from the ownership committee. The Fraternity, however, was then stripped of power as the owners decided to sever any ties with the Players Fraternity from that point forward. The Fraternity disbanded in 1918.
But, in one of those baseball coincidence, two months later, on April 14th, Marvin Miller was born.
Miller would become a labor attorney, who would grow to lead the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966-1983. During that period he negotiated the very first Collective Bargaining Agreement with the owners in 1968, and led through three strikes and two lockouts.
He represented Curt Flood in his battle to negate baseball's Reserve Clause, and helped bring about Free Agency in baseball. Flood refused a trade from St. Louis to Philadelphia, challenging the system in which, he felt, players were considered chattel.
During a game against the Reds at the Polo Grounds, Giants Manager John McGraw had some words with Bill “The Singing Umpire” Byron. When the game was over, McGraw approached Byron and said,”Take your hands out of your pockets, and I'll show you who's the better man.”
More words were exchanged, and according to sportswriter Sam Crane, Byron's hands came out of the pockets, and fists were thrown.
“The umpire went down, his mouth bleeding profusely. He made no attempt to regain his feet.”
McGraw was fined $500 and suspended for sixteen days.
There was also an historic battle that seems to have been forgotten, and still remains somewhat controversial.
The Boston Red Sox were playing the Washington Senators. George Herman Ruth, the Babe, was the Sox starting pitcher, and was not having a good day from the get-go.
His first pitch to Ray Morgan was called a ball, and Ruth disagreed. So much so that he walked halfway to the plate to tell the umpire so.
The next two pitches were also called balls, with Ruth being a little more aggressive in his displeasure at the umpire's decision, and encroaching even closer to the plate. Probably, given the combative nature of the situation, it didn't matter where the next pitch was going to be.
When the fourth pitch was called ball four, Ruth advanced to the plate, (as Foster took first base on the walk) and engaged in an argument with the home plate umpire, Brick Owens. During the heat of the argument, Ruth slugged Owens in the nose. Obviously, he was immediately ejected from the game and subsequently fined and suspended.
Scrambling now, Red Sox manager Jack Barry quickly got pitcher Ernie Shore ready to fill in for Ruth.
Shore quickly picked Foster off of first base. He then proceeded to retire the next twenty-six batters in order. Shore had been credited with an asterisked perfect game, the reasoning was that he was responsible for the 1st out of the game, even though he reached on Ruth's walk, and then the next 26 in order.
Some that since the first runner was on base, the perfect game should be nullified, since a truly 'perfect game' would not have ANY base runners.
In 1991, Major League Baseball revisited the perfect games, and decided that this was not a true perfect game, so game is now officially recorded as a 2-pitcher no-hitter.
(As an aside, the view of Major League Baseball now says that a perfect game is a game where a pitcher competes nine innings, no more or no less, and no batter reaches base. That being said, David Palmer of the Expos lost a 5 inning perfect game, Pedro Martinez lost credit for a perfect game, although he was perfect for nine innings, but allowed a hit in the tenth, and Harvey Haddix lost a twelve inning perfecto because he allowed a hit in the 13th)
Ruth was in his last season as a full time pitcher. But he was still a dominant pitcher. How dominant was he?
He finished with a 24-13 record, and an ERA of 2.01. But, Ty Cobb made 672 plate appearances in 1917, striking out just 34 times, or 5.1% of the time. Ruth was responsible for 4 of those 34, 11.8% of the strikeouts for the league's leading hitter, who finished with a .388 average.
On to the season at hand, the Chicago White Sox won the American League pennant seemingly with ease. The finished nine games ahead of Boston. However....
There is a theory that the White Sox made the Tigers know that they would be 'appreciative' of Detroit's less than spectacular performance during a Labor Day series between the clubs. The Tigers did win two of the four games, but the two losses were easy victories for the Pale Hose. Allegedly a 'bundle of cash' was left for the Tigers at the end of the series.
It is very hard to substantiate these claims, especially a hundred years later, but there was allusions to this during testimony by Chick Gandil and Charles Comiskey during the “Black Sox” trial in 1920.
Also during this time, and up into the 1920's, it was not unusual for a team wining a crucial series from a team in the second division to leave certain...shall we call them gratuities...to the losing team.
That being told, the Sox were the only team in either league to win 100 games. Offensive production was still down across the majors. The pitchers held a 17.7% statistical advantage over the hitters, and the American League hurlers were, on average, 12.6% better than their National League rivals.
The top teams in both offense and pitching for each league were as follows:
- American LeagueWinsRuns per 9 inningsNational LeagueWinsRuns per 9 inningsWhite Sox1002.919Giants982.883Red Sox902.894Phillies873.239Indians883.459Cardinals823.664
- American LeagueAvgRuns scoredNational LeagueAvgRuns ScoredTigers.259639Giants.261635White Sox.253656Reds.264601Indians.245584Phillies.248578
And then the overall top 5 power rankings for both leagues combined stands as:
- White SoxWorld Series ChampionsGiantsNational League ChampionsRed Sox2nd in American LeaguePhillies2nd in National LeagueIndians3rd in American League
The White Sox won the World Series over the Giants in six games. It was the second World Series Championship for the White Sox. Pitcher Red Faber went 3-1 in the Series.
On to other highlights from the season...
For the third place Cleveland Indians, infielder Sam Chapman established a record with 67 sacrifice hits in a season.
For the Yankees, first baseman Wally Pipp established a record for the lowest batting average for an American league home run champion. He hit .244. That record would stand until Harmon Killebrew batted .242 while leading in homers.
Pipp is the answer to a great trivia question,but not the one your thinking. He was the first Yankee to lead the American league in homers in consecutive seasons.
For the Phillies, pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander won thirty games for the third consecutive season.
In St. Louis, Browns pitcher Ernie Koob and Bob Groom each pitched a no-hitter against the pending World Champion Chicago White Sox. And they did it on consecutive days. The only time that has been accomplished.
And Cardinals outfielder Walton Cruise became the first to hit a ball out of Braves Park. He was also the second, accomplishing that as a member of the Braves in 1921.
Pirates outfielder Carson Bigbee gathered six hits in an extra inning game.
And the Pirates played a record four consecutive extra-inning games.
And For the Tigers, Ty Cobb led the league in doubles and triples for the third time in his career. No other American Leaguer has done it more than once. (Stan Musial did it four times in the NL)
It was Cobb's fifth time leading in Total bases and stolen bases in the same year. Snuffy Stirnweiss is the only other American Leaguer to accomplish this feat once.
Let's delve into the player performances for 1917...
Looking at the National League batters first, our initial top ten rankings are:
- PLAYERTEAMRunsRBISBAVGRCGEdd RoushReds826721.3411.07Rogers HornsbyCardinals866617.3270.99Gavvy CravathPhillies70836.2801.01Benny KauffGiants896930.3081.00Heinie ZimmermanGiants6110013.2971.04George BurnsGiants1034340.3020.93Heinie GrohReds915315.3040.92Hal ChaseReds718621.2771.01Possum WhitedPhillies697010.2800.91Casey StengelDodgers697318.2570.91
And then as we compare these to their team performances, we get this list:
- Rogers HornsbyAboveMax CareyPirates825146.2960.85Edd RoushAboveCasey StengelAboveGavvy CravathAboveRed SmithBraves606216.2950.82Walton CruiseCardinals705916.2950.91Les MannCubs634414.2730.91Zack WheatDodgers38415.3120.72Ed KonetchyBraves565416.2720.83
This brings our final top ten National League hitter to this list:
Switching to the American League, where there was more offense, our initial list of top performers would be:
- Ty CobbTigers10710655.3831.36Bobby VeachTigers7911021.3191.18Tris SpeakerIndians906030.3521.04Joe JacksonWhite Sox918213.3011.15Happy FelschWhite Sox759926.3081.11Eddie CollinsWhite Sox916653.2891.01Braggo RothIndians697251.2850.97Joe HarrisSenators406511.3040.94Ray ChapmanIndians983652.3020.85Sam RiceSenators776935.3020.94
And then, against their team's average performances, we get this list:
- Ty CobbAboveTris SpeakerAboveGeorge SislerSt. Louis Browns605237.3530.81Bobby VeachAboveWally PippYankees827011.2440.92Sam RiceAboveJoe JacksonAboveJoe JudgeSenators623017.2850.88Braggo RothAboveJoe HarrisAbove
Combining and calculating, that brings our top ten overall performers to this list:
Now we'll take a look at the pitching, where the American League pitchers held a 12.6% advantage over the National League hurlers, and where overall, the pitchers were 17.7% better than the hitters, we get this initial list of top ten National Leaguers, featuring Rune per Game (RPG):
- PitcherTeamW-LERARPGPete AlexanderPhillies30-131.832.48Ferdie SchuppGiants21-71.952.28Slim SalleeGiants18-72.172.92Pol PerrittGiants17-71.882.55Hippo VaughnCubs23-132.012.95Fred ToneyReds24-162.203.05Rube MarquardDodgers19-122.553.25Art NehfBraves17-82.163.01Wilbur CooperPirates17-112.362.90Lefty TylerBraves14-122.523.05
And then against their team's averages, we get this list:
- Fred ToneyAbovePete AlexanderAboveHippo VaughnAboveRube MarquardAboveArt NehfAboveLefty TylerAboveLeon CadoreDodgers13-132.452.93Jeff PfefferDodgers11-152.232.84Ferdie SchuppAbovePete SchneiderReds20-192.103.45
With that being stated, crunching the numbers brings us this top ten total National League pitching ranking:
And now over to the mighty American League pitchers. Our initial top ten list begins with:
- Ed CicotteWhite Sox28-121.531.97Carl MaysRed Sox22-91.742.52Babe RuthRed Sox24-132.012.57Jim BagbyIndians23-131.992.55Stan CoveleskiIndians19-141.812.35Walter JohnsonSenators23-162.212.90Dutch LeonardRed Sox16-172.172.69Reb RussellWhite Sox15-51.952.90Ernie ShoreRed Sox13-102.223.02Bob ShawkeyYankees13-152.443.09
A quick word here about Ed “Knuckles” Cicotte...
He was one of the premiere pitchers in the American League, going 208-149 over his career. He was the top AL pitcher in 1917, leading the league with a 1.53 ERA, and in innings pitched with 346 and 2/3rds.
He struggled in 1918, but bounced back in 1919 to win 29 games against just 7 losses.
His salary for 1919 was $6,000, but with a promised $10,000 bonus for winning thirty games. He fell one game short.
However, according to legend, owner Charles Comiskey allegedly instructed manager Kid Gleason to sit Cicotte for the last five games of the season, depriving Ed that opportunity to win that thirtieth game, and saving Comiskey the bonus money.
Many point to this occurrence as the impetus for Cicotte's participation in the “Black Sox” scandal on 1919, where the White Sox threw the World Series against the Reds.
In that Series, Cicotte won one game, and lost another.
For his part in the scandal, Cicotte, along with seven others, were permanently expelled from baseball.
Also of note that the top three on this list all deserve to be noted.
Babe Ruth, of course, for being, well, Babe Ruth. Another dominant pitcher who held the American League record for the lowest ERA (1.75 in 1916) by a left-handed pitcher in the regular season, which was subsequently broken by Ron Guidry (1.74)in 1978
And Carl Mays, a wicked sidearmer, who's notoriety comes from baseball tragedy.
In 1920, Mays who was pitching for the Yankees at the time, lost control of a fastball that struck Indians shortstop Ray Chapman in the temple. Chapman died as a result of the massive head trauma.
But back to the statistics at hand, this is the list as compared to to their team performances:
- Walter JohnsonAboveWin NoyesAthletics10-102.953.98Bob GroomBrowns8-192.943.09Jing JohnsonAthletics9-122.783.58Carl MaysAboveEd CicotteAboveBullet Joe BushAthletics11-172.473.90Jim BagbyAboveBabe RuthAboveStan CoveleskiAbove
That will bring our final top ten best pitchers in the AL to:
So with all this information in mind, and no post season awards to speak of, here are my top five votes for each award.
Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander
Player of the Year
Pitcher of the Year
Offensive Player of the Year
Player of the Year
Pitcher of the Year
Thanks for reading...hope you enjoyed!