Tuesday, June 18, 2024

1924, A Series debut, a banishment, and the Rajah The 1924 baseball began very auspiciously. Boston Braves first-baseman, Norman “Tony” Boeckel, was involved in a traffic accident near San Diego, along with his good friend, Bob Meusel of the New York Yankees. While Mesel was not injured, Boeckel was not as lucky. He was seriously injured, and passed away the day after the accident, on February 16th. Boeckel has the unfortunate distinction of being the first major league player to die in a car accident. And Cincinnati Reds manager Pat Moran, who led the Phillies and the Reds to each team’s first National League Championship, would succumb to Bright’s Disease during Spring Training. He had fallen ill over the winter but was able to report to the Red’s Spring Training camp in Orlando, Florida, His health deteriorated, and he passed away on March 7th. Jack Hendricks replaced Moran and led the Reds to a fourth-place finish. The season did lead to some record setting performances, as the New York Giants became the first team to win four consecutive National League pennants. Most impressively, it was the third straight without having a twenty-game winner on their pitching staff. 1924 marked the World Series debut of thirty-six-year-old pitching legend Walter Johnson. In his thirteenth season Johnson’ post-season was a little shaky, unusual for him, as he lost his first two starts to the Giants. He did pick up the win in Game 7, coming in to pitch in relief, the ‘Big Train’ pitched four scoreless innings as the Nationals won 2-1 in twelve innings. Johnson struck out twenty of the Giants in the Series all told. It was the only World Series title in his illustrious career. A curiosity in that 1924 Series, in that Washington pitchers Rosy Ryan in Game 3, and Jack Bentley in Game 5, each homered in a game, the first time that two pitchers homered in the same Series. It remains the only time that has happened. And speaking of World Series, the inaugural Negro League World Series was played, with the legendary Kansas City Monarchs besting the Hilldale Club 5-4-1. The Power rankings for the teams in each league tell a story. The top offensive teams were: National League American League New York Giants Detroit Tigers St. Louis Cardinals Chicago White Sox Pittsburgh Pirates New York Yankees The Cardinals team offense ranking owes a large part of its success to Rogers Hornsby…more on him in a moment. In the American League, the top offensive team performances were: The Chicago White Sox, it should be noted here, had the cumulative worst pitching in the American League, which explains the second-best offense finishing in last place. Here are the pitching ratings: Pittsburgh Pirates Washington Nationals Cincinnati Reds New York Yankees New York Giants St. Louis Browns The overall Power Rankings for both leagues, with final rankings were: New York Giants National League Champions Washington Nationals World Champions Detroit Tigers 3rd in American League Pittsburgh Pirates 3rd in National League New York Yankees 2nd in American League Rogers “The Rajah” Hornsby is regarded as one of the best hitters in baseball history, He finished his Hall of Fame career with a lifetime .359 average, which is the record for a right-handed batter. (Negro League legend Josh Gibson has a .373 average but was not listed as the leader on the baseball-reference.com site as of this writing. 1924 may have been Hornsby’s best season, and the reason that the Cardinal’s finished so high on the offense list, while the team finished sixth in the league. He batted .424, which is still the National league record. He batted .141 higher than the league average. On July 14, he went 3-4 against Brooklyn to get to .402, and his average didn’t drop below .400 for the rest of the season. And he was the first player to lead the league in hits and walks. Between 1922 and 1925, Horsby would hit .400 in three of those four seasons. In fact, beginning on September 9, 1920, through May 30, 1926, Hornsby’s batting average was .400. Hornsby had a lengthy career, playing for twenty-three seasons, and managing for thirteen of those seasons and then managing again for two more seasons. He is one of two players to win a triple crown twice in his career, along with Ted Williams. While he was never known to drink or smoke, he did have one main vice…betting on horses. By some accounts, his gambling issue became a distraction and was the reason that he had been traded a few times. His personality was also a bit irascible and was generally not liked by many teammates. In 1925, the Cardinals were looking to replace Branch Rickey as the manager. Rickey, however, owned stock in the Cardinals, and would be forced to divest himself of that. Hornsby was offered the manager’s job initially but wasn’t interested in it. Then he found out about Rickey’s stock situation and asked for Cardinal’s owner Sam Breadon’s help to buy the stock from Rickey, which he did, and Hornsby became the player-manager of the Cardinals. After the 1926 season, Hornsby went into contract negotiations looking for a reported $50,000 per year for three years. The Cardinals countered with a one-year contract for $50,000, if Hornsby stayed away from the horse track, which he wouldn’t agree to. Instead, he was traded to the New York Giants for future Hall of Famer Frankie “The Fordham Flash” and pitcher Jimmy Ring. While playing for the Giants, manager John McGraw was sidelined with sinusitis, and Hornsby stepped in to manage the club. The club did well under The Rajah, finishing third. However, his personality clashes with McGraw, and Giant’s owner Horace Stoneham’s disappointment with his gambling issues at the track, led the team to trade him to the Boston Braves. During this era, ‘problem players’ were often dealt away rather than dealing with their issues. And as great a player as Hornsby was, the downside was too much for these teams. In Boston, things were not well. But it was not Hornsby that was the cause. The team was in an unbelievably bad financial state. The manager, Jack Slattery, resigned about twenty-games into the season, and Hornsby was again appointed player-manager. But while Hornsby produced well, winning his seventh batting title, the team lost over a hundred games. The Chicago Cubs offered a very generous deal to the Braves, which was $200,000 cash, as well as five players, for Rogers Hornsby. Owner Fuchs jumped at the chance, so Hornsby traveled west to Chicago. Meanwhile, Boston continued to decline. While Hornsby was at the helm to finish 1928, Fuchs was trying to stay afloat, and hired himself to manage the club for 1929but season. They finished the season losing ninety-eight games, and last in the National League. Things were so dire for the Braves that the Philadelphia Phillies actually loaned Fuchs money to finish the season without folding. In Chicago, Hornsby started extremely well, winning the league’s MVP Award, while setting a modern Cub’s record by hitting .380, and scoring another Cub’s record 156 runs. (Both records still stand) Beginning in 1930, through the rest of his career, he was beset with foot and leg injuries. He did play in 100 games in 1931 and hit .331, but he spent more time on the bench managing than playing. Cub’s owner Bill Veeck Sr. was not a fan of Hornsby’s managerial style, thinking it was too ‘authoritarian’ for his liking. When Hornsby disagreed with an umpire’s decision and sent a player out to argue in his stead, only to have that player ejected, was a serious violation in Veeck’s mind. There was and is an unwritten rule that managers should argue their own arguments. Hornsby was fired at the beginning of August of 1932. He began 1933 back with the Cardinals, where he played sparingly, and was released towards the end of July, even though he was batting .325. He was quickly claimed by the St. Louis Browns, who hired him as a player-manager. Browns owner Phil Ball had wanted Hornsby to manage his team through the end of the season. Ball would die in October of that year. Hornsby played in a handful of games in 1935, as the team finished in last place. The Ball family estate was running the team but was not putting any capital towards improving the team, forcing the team to sell players to keep the team viable. The same thing happened the following season, with Hornsby’s frustrations mounting at the fiscal circumstances, as well as an unclear ownership situation that he felt made discipling his player very difficult. The Brown’s were sold prior to the 1937 season, to Donald Lee Barnes, who kept Hornsby on as manager at the suggestion of Branch Rickey. The Browns continued to struggle financially, being the second most popular team in St. Louis, behind the Cardinals. Apart from owning the Browns, and signing Pete Gray, the one-armed outfielder in 1944, Barnes didn’t leave much of a mark on the game. But he easily could have. In early December 1941, he had a meeting in Los Angeles about relocating this franchise there. That meeting was on the 5th or the 6th, depending on the source. Of course, the attack on Pearl Harbor ended those negotiations. But back to Hornsby. Barnes was annoyed by Hornsby’s persistent gambling issues. And according to sources, one of two things happened: • Hornsby was placing bets on horses during the games, in lieu of managing and was fired; or • Hornsby had owed money to Barnes for an undisclosed reason, but had won over $25,000 on the races, and tried to pay the money back, but Barnes refused to accept the money, as it would be coming for a bookie. Either way, Hornsby was done with playing, and managing in the major leagues. He finished his career just shy of 3,000 hits, with a .358 career average and 301 home runs, which stood as the second baseman’s record for many years. Other items of note from the baseball season: The immortal Babe Ruth reached the 200 hit/40 Home Run mark for the third and last time in his career. Only Lou Gehrig would do this more, reaching that mark five times. It was also the third, and last, last of his 200 hit/100 walk seasons. Again, Lou Gehrig accomplished this more, a total of seven times. Ruth did win his only batting title in 1924, finishing at .378.
Ruth’s teammate and starting first baseman (but not for much longer) Wally Pipp led the American League in triples. He would lose his first-base job in 1925 to the aforementioned Lou Gehrig.
The Yankees were shut out just once all season, by the Cleveland Indian’s Stan Coveleski. They would finish 2 games behind Washington for the pennant. Boston Red Sox rookie Ike Boone finished with a .337 batting average, which was the second highest for a rookie at the time.
And Pittsburgh Pirates rookie Kiki Cuyler finished with a .354 batting average, which set the National League rookie record.
Brooklyn Robins outfielder Zack Wheat hit .375, which was the highest batting average in the National Legue to not win the title, falling 49 points shy of Hornsby.
Pitcher Dazzy Vance led the National League in strikeouts, besting runner-up, and teammate, Burleigh Grimes by 127 K’s.
Washington Nationals outfielder Goose Goslin hit 12 of his team’s 22 homers on the season, accounting for 55% of the home run production.
Pitchers Walter Johnson and Tom Zachary finished first and second in the ERA title, the second time teammates finished 1&2. And Johnson would win his third pitching triple crown, leading in Wins, Earned Run Average and Strikeouts. St. Louis Brown’s slugger Ken Williams finished with more home runs than strikeouts, a rarity for the league leader in homers.
Williams is not spoken of much when they talk about the game’s earliest sluggers. He was the founding member of the 30/30 club in 1922. Thirty homers (39) and thirty steals (37). It would be twenty-four years before the next member joined the club, Willie Mays in 1956. He won the home-run title in 1922, not an easy feat when you were playing at the same time as Babe Ruth. (The Great Bambino hit 35 that season) In 1923, he hit a career best .357 average, but was discovered to have been using altered bats. The Washington Nationals had discovered one of his bats had been bored out, and cork was placed within the barrel. Williams claimed that he had ordered custom bats, but upon their arrival, found them to be too heavy, so he altered them. An investigation was completed, but there was no regulation against using ‘plugged or corked’ bats at the time, so there was no punishment. When he retired from the game in 1929, had had finished in the top four in homeruns hit in seven consecutive seasons and finished with a lifetime .319 batting average. As the St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles, Williams still holds the franchise record for Runs Batted In in a season, with 155 in 1922. He became a policeman in his hometown of Grants Pass, Oregon. He died on January 22, 1959. On May 1st, 1924, Chicago White Sox speedster Bill Barrett stole home in the 1st inning of a game against the Cleveland Indians, the later stole home in the 9th inning. He also stole second base as well in a 13-7 game.
On June 14th, George “High Pockets’ Kelly of the Giants hit three homers and drove in all 8 runs in a win over Cincinnati. It marked the first time a player was responsible for that many runs, while being responsible for all the runs, in a game. (I know that reads very convoluted, but saying it out loud may make it sound better)
On June 26th, the Giants hosted the Boston Braves at the Polo Grounds. Jesse Barnes was on the mound for the Giants, and his brother Virgil started for the Braves. It was the first time in major league history that two brothers opposed each other as starting pitchers. Virgil got a No Decision, but brother Jess was tagged for a loss in the 8-1 game. On September 16th, St. Louis Cardinals “Sunny” Jim Bottomly drove in a record twelve runs in a 17-3 rout over the Brooklyn Robins. That RBI record would stand until Mrk Whiten, also of the Cardinals, would duplicate the feat against the Cincinnati Reds.
On September 20th, Grover Cleveland “Old Pete” Alexander would notch his 300th career win, on his way to a total of 373, which is tied for third All-Time.
Boston Braves first John “Stuffy” McGinnis struck out 6 times over the course of the season, or 1.03% of his at-bats. For a comparison, as of this writing, there have been 470 players who have struck out 150 or more times in a season.
In the minor leagues, Lyman Lamb of the Tulsa Oilers in the Western League, set a professional baseball record by hitting 100 doubles. And then there was Jimmy O’Connell.
A middle-infielder for the New York Giants. During the final series of the regular season, O’Connell was alleged to have offered Phillies shortstop Heinie Sand $500 to ‘throw’ the game. Sand refused and alerted his manager, who then went to the ownership and executives, resulting in O’Connell’s lifetime suspension, along with Giants’ coach Cozy Dolan. While other Giants’ players were implicated, only O’Connell was punished. O’Connell would be the last active player to receive a lifetime suspension for 100 years, when Tucupita Marcano was dealt the same sentence. (Pete Rose was no longer an active player when he was suspended, just the team manager) Let’s take a look at the initial top ten offensive performers in the National League: Batter Team HR RBI AVG RC/G Rogers Hornsby Cardinals 25 94 .424 1.33 Kiki Cuyler Pirates 9 85 .354 1.45 High Pockets Kelly Giants 21 136 .324 1.43 Jim Bottomley Cardinals 14 111 .316 1.34 Ross Youngs Giants 10 74 .356 1.32 Zack Wheat Brooklyn 14 97 .375 1.24 Jack Fournier Brooklyn 27 116 .334 1.18 Frankie Frisch Giants 7 69 .328 1.26 Cy Williams Cubs 16 67 .299 0.96 Then, as compared to their team performances, we get this list: Rogers Hornsby Above Kiki Cuyler Above Cy Williams Above Zack Wheat Above Edd Roush Reds 3 72 .348 1.12 Jim Bottomley Above Jack Fournier Above Gabby Hartnett Above Curt Walker Phillies/Reds 5 54 .299 0.86 Casey Stengel Braves 5 39 .280 0.69 So then, compiling and figuring, the final top ten offensive players were: Rogers Hornsby 2nd in MVP vote Kiki Cuyler 8th in MVP vote High Pockets Kelly 6th in MVP vote Zack Wheat 3rd in MVP vote (tie) Jim Bottomley 17th in MVP vote Jack Fournier 9th in MVP Cy Williams 22nd in MVP Gabby Hartnett 15th in MVP vote (tied) Edd Roush 10th in MVP vote To the American League, our initial top ten is: Babe Ruth Yankees 46 124 .378 1.44 Harry Heilmann Tigers 10 114 .346 1.38 Goose Goslin Washington 12 129 .344 1.41 Bob Meusel Yankees 12 124 .325 1.43 George Myatt Indians 8 73 .342 1.14 Wally Pipp Yankees 9 110 .295 1.24 Ken Williams Browns 18 84 .324 1.26 Eddie Collins White Sox 6 86 .349 1.24 Bibb Falk White Sox 6 99 .352 1.23 Harry Hooper White Sox 10 62 .328 1.22 And against their team performances: Babe Ruth Above Joe Hauser A’s 27 115 .288 1.24 Goose Goslin Above Bill Lamar A’s 7 48 .330 1.25 George Myatt Above Ken Williams Above Bob Meusel Above Ike Boone Red Sox 13 98 .337 1.23 Wally Pipp Above Bing Miller A’s 6 62 .342 1.04 Brings us to this top ten overall hitters: Babe Ruth No Votes* Goose Goslin No Votes Harry Heilmann 9th in MVP vote (tied) Bob Meusel No Votes George Myatt No Votes Wally Pipp 14th in MVP vote Ken Williams 22nd in MVP vote (tied) Joe Hauser 7th in MVP vote Bill Lamar No Votes Ike Boone 20th in MVP vote (tied) *At this time, the American League Most Valuable Player voting prohibited repeat winners, which is why Ruth received no votes, as he was the winner in 1923. Looking at the pitching, our initial top ten National League performers were: Pitcher Team W-L ERA Dazzy Vance Brooklyn 28-6 2.16 Hugh McQuillan Giants 14-8 2.69 Grover Cleveland Alexander Cubs 12-5 3.03 Bill Doak Brooklyn/Cardinals 13-6 3.10 Emil Yde Pirates 16-3 2.83 Carl Mays Reds 20-9 3.15 Eppa Rixey Reds 15-14 2.76 Wilbur Cooper Pirates 20-14 3.28 Leo Dickerman Cardinals/Brooklyn 7-4 2.84 Virgil Barnes Giants 16-10 3.06 And compared to their team performances, we get: Jesse Barnes Braves 15-20 3.23 Dazzy Vance Above Leo Dickerman Above Johnny Cooney Braves 8-9 3.18 Jimmy Ring Phillies 10-12 3.97 Grover Cleveland Alexander Above Hugh McQuillan Above Bill Doak Above Allen Sothorn Cardinals 10-16 3.57 Vic Albridge Cubs 15-12 3.50 Compiling these stats, our top ten National League pitchers overall were: Dazzy Vance National League MVP winner Hugh McQuillan No Votes Grover Cleveland Alexander 22nd in MVP Vote (tied) Leo Dickerman No Votes Jesse Barnes No Votes Bill Doak No Votes Emile Yde 21st in MVP Vote Carl Mays No Votes Eppa Rixey 22ns in MVP Vote (tied) Wilbur Cooper No Votes In the American League, our initial pitcher’s list is: Walter Johnson Washington 23-7 2.72 Curly Ogden A’s/Washington 9-8 2.83 Herb Pennock Yankees 21-9 2.83 Tom Zachary Washington 15-9 2.75 Stan Baumgartner A’s 13-6 2.88 George Mogridge Washington 16-11 3.76 Rip Collins Tigers 14-7 3.21 Hollis Thurston White Sox 20-14 3.80 Howard Ehmke Washington 19-17 3.46 Firpo Marberry Washington 11-12 3.09 Then against their team performances, we get this list: Hollis Thurston Above Stan Baumgartner Above Howard Ehmke Above Red Faber White Sox 9-11 3.85 Sherry Smith Indians 12-14 3.02 Joe Shaute Indians 20-17 3.75 Herb Pennock Above Jack Quinn Red Sox 12-13 3.27 Walter Johnson Above Eddie Rommel A’s 18-15 3.95 Which brings our top American League pitchers to this: Walter Johnson American League MVP winner Curly Ogden No Votes Herb Pennock 4th in MVP Vote Hollis Thurston No Votes Stan Baumgartner No Votes Tom Zachary No Votes Howard Ehmke 15th in MVP Vote Sherry Smith No Votes Rip Collins No Votes Joe Shaute No Votes After all the analyzing, crunching and combining the raw statistics, we get my final post season award winners, as follows: National League
Dazzy Vance NL Player of the Year
Rogers Hornsby NL Offensive Player of the Year Kiki Cuyler Zack Wheat George McQuillan American League
Babe Ruth AL Player of the Year
Walter Johnson AL Pitcher of the Year Goose Goslin Herb Pennock Harry Heilmann