Thursday, August 29, 2013

Player-Managers in the 20th Century: A Cursory History

A recent New York Times item mentioned that Pete Rose in 1986 was the last player-manager in big league baseball, "a position once fairly common."  In fact, the Depression Years were the last time major league baseball embraced the concept of player-managers to any significant extent. This Baseball Historical Insight tracks the historical arc of player-managers in the 20th century, with a focus on the 1930s.

Player-Managers in the 20th Century:  A Cursory History  

Tyler Kepner, the New York Times' national baseball columnist, wrote as the middle story in his weekly "Extra Bases" feature, published Sunday August 25, that it has been 27 years since there has been a player-manager in major league baseball, but suggested "it seems possible that in the right situation, a player could serve both roles," especially since "hiring trends have favored younger managers with recent playing experience."

The last sustained "right situation" for there to be player-managers was during the Great Depression.  With the economy in crisis, it made financial sense--especially for contending teams with higher payrolls--to pay an established player something extra to manage than to hire someone else as manager who would demand a competitive wage.  The 1930s were in fact the last hurrah of the player-manager, and no other decade saw as many star players named manager of their teams.  They included Hall of Famers second baseman Rogers Hornsby (who had already had two turns as a player-manager) taking over the Cubs in 1931; Giants' first baseman Bill Terry replacing The Great McGraw in 1932; shortstop Joe Cronin being named manager of the Nationals in 1933 and then the  Red Sox in 1935; second baseman Frankie Frisch taking over the Cardinals in 1933; catcher Mickey Cochrane, the Tigers, and third baseman Pie Traynor, the Pirates in 1934; and catcher Gabby Hartnett, the Cubs, in 1938.  Other notables who became player-managers in the 1930s included first baseman Charlie Grimm (Cubs, 1932); third baseman Jimmy Dykes (White Sox, 1934); and shortstop Leo Durocher (Dodgers, 1939).

It is telling of the times that from 1932 to 1938, eight of the fourteen teams to play in the World Series were led by player-managers--Grimm's 1932 Cubs; Terry's Giants and Cronin's Nationals in 1933; the Frisch Cardinals and Cochrane Tigers in 1934; Cochrane's Tigers again in 1935; Terry's Giants again in 1936; and the 1938 Cubs after Hartnett replaced Grimm.  Actually, every pennant-winner during those years except for the Yankees, managed by veteran professional manager Joe McCarthy, was led by either a player-manager or a manager first hired when he was a regular in the starting line-up but who had just hung up his spikes (Grimm of the 1935 Cubs and Terry of the 1937 Giants).  Of the 42 teams that made the World Series from 1911 to 1931, by contrast, only five (the 1912 Red Sox, 1920 Indians, 1924 and 1925 Nationals, and 1926 Cardinals) were led by player-managers. And since 1938, there has been only one team to make it to the Fall Classic with a player-manager at the helm--the 1948 Indians, whose manager, shortstop Lou Boudreau, had an epic playing season that made him the American League MVP.

Until the Depression, however, the two leagues had not been in sync when it came to player-managers--particularly star players as managers--since the first decade of the 20th century.  Dating back to Jimmy Collins, Clark Griffith, Fielder Jones, and Napoleon Lajoie in that first decade, the American League more so than the National bought into the star-player-as-manager paradigm of player-managers.  This was particularly true in the 1920s when the Indians from 1919 to 1926 (center fielder Tris Speaker), the Tigers from 1921 to 1926 (center fielder Ty Cobb), the Browns from 1924 to 1926 (first baseman George Sisler), and the White Sox in 1925 and 1926 (second baseman Eddie Collins) were managed by star players who were still among the best players in major league baseball.  Nationals' second baseman Bucky Harris was the AL's only player-manager for at least two years who was not a star player, but he was an acknowledged leader on the field and a popular player in Washington.  Speaker and Cobb were their league's most compelling player-managers because they had been and still were such great ball players. Cronin and Cochrane certainly fit that mold when they were named player-managers in the 1930s.

In contrast to the AL, until the Great Depression presented a strong economic argument for doing so, the National League had had very few player-managers--still less, star players as managers--with any longevity since Pirates' left fielder Fred Clarke and the Cubs' first baseman Frank Chance excelled as both players still in their prime and managers, each winning four pennants in their dual roles between 1901 and 1910. Beginning in the 'teens, instead of turning to star players on their teams to find new managers, National League franchises were ahead of AL teams in embracing baseball professionals who had long experience in the game and were renowned for their mastery of the many nuances of the game.  This paradigm shift away from the star player as manager led to the National League producing some of the best managers in the first half of the 20th century--most notably George Stallings, Pat Moran, Bill McKechnie, and Mr. McCarthy (who, lest we forget, made his reputation as manager of the Cubs from 1926 to 1930, before he became Master of the Universe with the Yankees)--all of whom got their opportunity to manage after their playing days were over and none of whom were close to being star players.  In the 1920s, only five NL players were made manager of their teams, and twice that player was the great second baseman Rogers Hornsby (who became manager of the Cardinals in 1925 and manager of the Braves in 1928).  Hornsby's managerial manner was stressful for all concerned, however, and his longest stint as a player-manager was a year-and-a-half in St. Louis.  Until the 1930s, Dave Bancroft from 1924 to 1927, by which time he was no longer an elite player, was the only National League player-manager to remain a regular in the starting line-up on the team he managed for as many as four years after Fred Clarke had retired as a player in 1911.

Once the exigencies of the Great Depression were nearing an end, player-managers became not only less prevalent but nearly an extinct species.  Thereafter, each league would have only one player-manager of consequence--meaning he was still a star player for most of the years he was also his team's manager.  They were Lou Boudreau, who managed the Cleveland Indians while playing shortstop from 1942 to 1950 (including leading the Indians to a pennant and their last World Series triumph on 1948), and Mel Ott, who managed the New York Giants while playing regularly in right field from 1942 to 1945.  The few who became player-managers after them were all near the end of their playing days and did not impress as player-managers.  The three most recent were Frank Robinson (who started himself as a designated hitter in only 52 games as player-manager of the Indians in 1975 and 1976); Joe Torre (who appeared in only three games after he took over as player-manager of the Mets in 1977, all as a pinch hitter); and Pete Rose (who started himself at first base in 194 of the 365 games he managed as a player-manager in Cincinnati from 1984 to 1986).  Robinson and Torre went on to long careers as dugout-only managers, and Rose probably would have, too, were it not for his gambling addiction.

As an aside, Kepner notes in his article that Rose, pinch hitting, struck out in his final appearance as a player; it seems uncharacteristic that a pugnacious competitor like Pete Rose would allow his last major league at bat to be a strikeout, especially when there were still 45 games to be played in the 1986 season.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

(Losing Amidst) Hot Streaks

After losing Sunday night, the Dodgers are 46-12 (.793) since June 21. No matter how great the team, or how hot a team is for any given period of time, it is very very difficult to go for very long without suffering back-to-back losses.  This Baseball Historical Insight looks at the extent to which the teams with some of the most dramatic drives to overcome big pennant-race deficits were able to avoid consecutive losses. 

(Losing Amidst) Hot Streaks

My previous post noted that four major league teams that went at least two months without back-to-back losses were all historically great teams at the beginning or in the middle of dynastic runs.  This begs the question about teams that had historically notable stretch drives to come from far behind to win the pennant or division title: what was the longest stretch any of them went without back-to-back losses?

In their dramatic drive to overtake the defending NL champion Brooklyn Dodgers, the 1942 St. Louis Cardinals came closest to not losing twice in a row for two months when time ran out on them.  After losing back-to-back games on August 1 and 2 to fall nine back of Brooklyn, the Cardinals finished the season with a 45-10 (.818) run, no two losses consecutive, to beat out the Dodgers, 106 wins to 104.  Their streak included winning five of six games they played against Brooklyn in the final two months of the season, and a 21-4 record for the month of September.  The season ended, however, on September 27, meaning the Cardinals' streak ran exactly eight weeks--just four days officially shy of two months from August 2.  Of course, throw in their winning four of five against the Yankees in the World Series, which ended October 5, and the 1942 Cardinals did indeed go more than two months without consecutive losses.

In MLB's last true pennant race (because there was no wild card to fall back on), the 1993 Atlanta Braves went 39-11 (.780) in their last 50 games to erase San Francisco's 9-1/2 game lead on August 8 and win the NL West on the last day of the season, 104 wins to 103.  The Braves lost back-to-back games only once in that stretch--on August 19 and 20--after they had given fair warning to the Giants that they intended to make a race of it by winning nine straight to kickstart their drive.  In the remaining six weeks-plus two days of the regular season after August 20, the Braves did not lose consecutive games again . . . until losing Games 4, 5 and 6 to the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS, denying them a third consecutive appearance in the Fall Classic.

The 1914 Boston "Miracle" Braves, who famously went 68-19 (.782) to win the pennant by 10-1/2 games after trailing the New York Giants by 15 on July 4, lost twice in a row twice during that stretch.  Their first two-game losing streak was at the hands of the Cardinals, then in third place, on July 14 and 15, which left the Braves still in last place and now 11-1/2 games out.  Boston did not lose consecutive games again for six weeks, with a 27-6 record enabling them to leapfrog six other teams and tie the Giants at the top of the NL heap before back-to-back defeats on August 26 and 27 dropped the Braves a game-and-a-half back.  This proved only a very temporary setback as the Braves finished the remaining six weeks going 34-8 without consecutive defeats to decisively win the National League pennant.  And then they swept the much-superior Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.

The 1935 Chicago Cubs also went six weeks without two losses in a row as they surged from third place, 3-1/2 games behind the Giants, after a double-header loss in Brooklyn on August 14 to win the pennant by four games over second-place St. Louis.  This was the Cubs team that won 21 straight games in September to overtake both the Cardinals and Giants before losing their final two games of the season on September 28 and 29.  Their winning streak included four straight against the Giants in their third-to-last series of the season to finish off New York, and three straight in St. Louis in their last series of the season to end the Cardinals' hopes.  After going 23-3 (.885) in September, the Cubs went only 2-4 in the month of October, losing the World Series to Detroit.

The 1951 New York Giants' famous 39-8 (.830) drive that began with them 13-1/2 games behind the Dodgers on August 11 and culminated in Bobby Thomson's epic walk-off home run included back-to-back losses on September 11 and 13, meaning the longest they went without losing two in a row was exactly one month.  Until losing Games 4, 5, and 6--and the World Series--to the Yankees, that two-game losing streak in September was the longest the 1951 Giants endured after August 11.  In winning 53 of their remaining 74 games (.716) to demolish the Boston Red Sox' 14-game lead on July 17, the 1978 Yankees had four two-game losing streaks and one three-game losing streak.  The longest they went without losing back-to-back games was one month, between August 22 and September 22.  And in trailing the Chicago Cubs by 10 games on August 13, the 1969 New York Mets finished the season going 38-11 (.776) to win the first-ever NL East title by eight games, but their 11 losses included two in a row on August 31 and September 1 and three straight on September 19 (a double-header) and 20.

Meanwhile, back in the here and now, the 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers are in the midst of one of the greatest performance stretches by any team in history.  Since being dead last in the NL West on June 21, 9-1/2 games out of first and 12 games below .500, the Dodgers had opened up a 10-1/2 game lead in their division by winning the opening game of their just-concluded three-game series with the Red Sox during which they lost as many as two in a row only once in more than two months--on the 18th and 19th of August.  Their 46-10 (.821) record between June 22 and August 23 is the best by any team for that many games since the 1998 Yankees, on their way to 114 victories, won 46 of 56 games (which included two two-game losing streaks) after starting the season 0-3.  The Dodgers began their drive too late in the season to think of winning that many games, but they have a chance to make this one of the greatest comeback stories ever written in baseball history, rivaling that of the 1914 "Miracle" Braves coming from 15 back on July 4 to win the pennant by 10-1/2.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Four Teams / Two Months / No Consecutive Losses

Before losing back-to-back games for the first time since June 20 and 21, the Dodgers went nearly two months without consecutive losses.  Four teams that did play at least two months without losing two in a row--the 1906 Cubs, 1911 Athletics, 1931 Athletics, and 1938 Yankees--were all at the start or in the middle of dynastic seasons.

Four Teams / Two Months / No Consecutive Losses

Precisely because major league baseball seasons are so long, even the most dominant teams in history endure a slump or two on their way to a pennant-race romp.  More impressive, perhaps, than long winning streaks are when clubs can sustain a level of performance excellence where they are virtually unbeatable for an extended portion of the baseball season, and even then back-to-back losses are not unusual.  On their way to setting an AL-record (since broken) 114 wins in 1998, for example, the Yankees' longest winning streak was 10 games, and they endured stretches of four losses in five games, six in eight (including a four-game losing streak), and eight losses in twelve games (including two three-game losing streaks).  The 110-win Ruth-Gehrig Yankees of 1927, who never spent a day out of first place, lost seven of thirteen games in one stretch and had a four-game losing streak in another.  Neither team went even a month without enduring back-to-back losses.

But four teams that were at the heart of dynasties by measure of winning successive pennants by decisive margins, excelling in all facets of the game, and dominating their league were virtually unbeatable for consecutive months.  One of the most impressive winning stretches was by the 1938 Yankees--the only one of Manager Joe McCarthy's seven pennant-winners with either Gehrig or DiMaggio (or both) on the roster not to win 100 games; they won 99.  (McCarthy's 1943 pennant-winning Yankees won 98 games, but Gehrig was tragically gone and DiMaggio and a host of his teammates were in the service in the first season that World War II had a big impact on major league rosters.)  Favored with obviously superior talent, the McCarthy Yankees almost every season went on an impressive summer surge to put a stake through the hopes of would-be contenders for the American League pennant.

The 1938 Yankees, however, actually found themselves in the midst of a real pennant race with Cleveland and Boston through July.  But from June 23 through August 30, the Yankees won 54 of 67 games (.806) to open up a 15-game lead, never once losing more than one game at a time.  You read right:  for more than two months that year--68 days to be precise--the longest losing streak the Yankees endured was one game--13 times.  The Yankees did not lose consecutive games again until the last day of August and the first day of September.  For the season, the Yankees outscored their opponents by 36 percent (scoring an average of 6.2 runs-per-game to their opponents' 4.5), but during the 68 games they played between June 23 and August 30 (one of which ended in a tie), the Yankees scored 77 percent more runs than they surrendered (528 to 299) for an average score of 7.8 to 4.4.  Twenty-six of their 54 wins were by blowout margins of five runs or more, including all nine games of a winning streak from June 25 to July 4, and in 21 of their victories they held the opposing team to two runs or less, including five shutouts.

The team that interrupted the earlier Ruth-Gehrig Yankees' reign of terror with three consecutive run-away pennants from 1929 to 1931 was the Philadelphia Athletics.  Connie Mack's second dynasty (not to be confused with his first from 1910 to 1914) had each of their pennants essentially secured by the beginning of August.  In 1929, the Athletics won 39 of their first 50 games (.780)--never losing more than one at a time--between the start of the season on April 17 and June 15, before enduring their first two-game losing streak just two days shy of two months.  In 1931, after opening the season with five losses in their first seven games, the Athletics went two full months without losing consecutive games, posting a 41-8 (.837) record from April 22 to June 23, including 17 in a row in May.  That two-month stretch, however, left Philadelphia only 2-1/2 games ahead of the Washington Nationals, and it wasn't until 17 wins in 18 games from the middle to the end of July that Mack's men put the pennant out of reach for Washington, not to mention McCarthy's Yankees.  With stellar pitching and the most imposing line-up any side of New York's, the Athletics outscored their opponents by a phenomenal 80 percent (323 to 179) during that two month stretch in 1931.

Baseball's two earliest dynasties of the modern era--the 1906-10 Chicago Cubs and 1910-14 Philadelphia Athletics, both winners of four pennants in five years--also had one of their teams go at least two months without consecutive losses.  In 1911, defending their American League title from the previous season, the Athletics found themselves 2-1/2 games down on August 1 after losing two straight to the first-place Tigers, but followed up with a 39-14 (.736) record from August 2 to October 3 to assume a commanding 12-1/2 game lead before they next lost back-to-back games.  Although never losing two in a row during that stretch, the Athletics were not quite as unbeatable as the other teams discussed here; in a stretch of 22 games extending from August 10 to September 4, Philadelphia was only 13-9, never winning more than three in a row (even if all their losses were singletons).

The most impressive two-month stretch belongs to the 1906 Cubs, who kickstarted their dynasty with a major league-record 116 wins, getting better as the season went on.  After losing consecutive games on July 22 and 23, before which they had not lost two in a row in more than seven weeks since being swept in a May 30 double-header, the 1906 Cubs were in first place with a superb 61-28 (.685) record, on pace to win 105 but only four games ahead of the keeping-up Pittsburgh Pirates.  From July 24 to the end of the season on October 7, however, the unstoppable Cubs lost only eight games, never more than one at a time, while winning 55 (.873) to establish the highest single-season winning percentage (.763) of any team in modern baseball history.  They did not lose two in a row again until the worst possible time--Games 5 and 6 to the White Sox in the only all-Chicago World Series to date.

Including their back-to-back losses in July, Manager Frank Chance's "peerless" Cubs went 88-21 (.807) after their double-header loss on May 30.  Like Mack's second Athletics dynasty and McCarthy's continuance of the Yankee dynasty, the Cubs excelled in every aspect of the game; they certainly had better defense than the Athletics and arguably better defense than the Yankees.  In the final 76 days of the season, during which they played 64 games (the final one ending in a tie) and suffered only eight losses, the Cubs scored more than two-and-a-third times as many runs (308 to 129) as their opponents, and nearly a third of their opponents' runs (32 percent) came in the eight games the Cubs lost.  (On the season, they outscored their opponents by 84 percent.)  The Cubs won 104 or more games in three of the next four years, and 99 in 1908--the year of the "Merkle Game"--when they finished out the season winning 41 of their final 51 (.804), never losing more than one at a time, between August 17 and the tacked-on-to-the-end-of-the-season Merkle Make-Up Game on October 8.

Did teams like the 1951 New York Giants that had spectacular runs allowing them to overcome significant deficits to win the pennant or their division title typically do so without enduring back-to-back losses?  That will be the subject of my next posting.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Revisiting Major League Integration: Meaningful Numbers

The relatively small number of black players who were regulars on major league teams even as late as 1960--fourteen years into the integration era and four years after Jackie Robinson hung up his spikes--and the high percentage of elite players among black regulars during those years illuminates the reality that major league baseball was slow to integrate even though the exceptional performances of the first black trailblazers proved proved black players could compete at the major league level and there was no going back to segregated baseball.  

Revisiting Major League Integration:  Meaningful Numbers

I mentioned in a footnote to my last post that I gave a presentation at the annual conference of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), in Philadelphia from 1-4 August, entitled, "Consolidating Major League Integration: A Different Perspective."  The presentation was derived from my earlier series of posts riffing off the movie 42.  This post summarizes four principal points and includes tables with substantiating data.

First:  The historical narrative that rightfully celebrates Jackie Robinson and the great black players who followed in his immediate footsteps does not change with this analysis.  For blacks of more ordinary major league ability to get the opportunity to compete for big league starting jobs, it was absolutely necessary for the first generation of blacks in the major leagues, beginning with Robinson, to be exceptional players; the best of the black players had to prove they could play with the best of the established white stars to pave the way for broader acceptance of integration in major league baseball.  Not surprisingly, therefore, of the first eight black players to emerge as regulars in starting line-ups for at least five seasons--in order of appearance as starting players they were Robinson (Dodgers) in 1947, Larry Doby (Indians) and Roy Campanella (Dodgers) in 1948, Don Newcombe (Dodgers) and Hank Thompson (Giants) in 1949, Monty Irvin (Giants) in 1950, and Minnie Minoso (White Sox) and Willie Mays (Giants) in 1951--Thompson alone was not an elite player. Two others who made their big league debut within the first five years of integration were regulars for three years--Sam Jethroe of the Braves and Luke Easter of the Indians, both from 1950 to 1952--but neither was given much opportunity to have a long career because they were in their thirties when they got their big league shot, and each suffered ailments or injuries that caused their teams to give up on them relatively quickly.  And then there was Satchel Paige, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, who did not get his major league chance until he was at least 42 years old in 1948 and pitched a total of only five big league seasons, mostly in relief for the Indians (1948-49) and Browns (1951-53).  (This, of course, does not include Satchel's three innings in 1965 in a Charlie Finley publicity stunt.)

Second:  Notwithstanding the success of integration's trailblazers, in 1952--six long years into the Jackie Robinson era ("long," because big league careers are typically short)--only 11 blacks were among the 175 players who were regulars on the sixteen major league clubs based on 100 games in the starting line-up as a position player or pitchers qualifying for the ERA title with 154 innings pitched or otherwise appearing in 40 games.  (This included Paige and the Dodgers' Joe Black as ace relievers for their teams).  Of course, it would have been 13 were it not for Newcombe and Mays being missing from action in 1952 as draft picks for the US Army during the Korean War.  Four years later, when Jackie Robinson played in his tenth and final season in the big leagues in 1956, the number of black players had increased to only 21 of 183 major league regulars based on those criteria.  And as late as 1960, fourteen years into the integration era and four years after Jackie had played in his last game, only 27 of 180 major league regulars were black players, accounting for only 15 percent of the total, barely an improvement over 11 percent of total big league regulars four years earlier.  And nine of those 27--one-third--played on just two teams; Jim Gilliam, Charlie Neal, John Roseboro, Maury Wills, and Tommy Davis with the Dodgers, and Mays, Toothpick Sam Jones, Orlando Cepeda, and Willie Kirkland with the Giants.

Blacks as Regulars on Major League Teams, 1952-1960

Position Players
(100 games started)
9 blacks
17 blacks
25 blacks
47 blacks
(ERA qualifiers)
0 blacks
4 blacks
2 blacks
11 blacks
Pitchers non-ERA qualify (40 games)
2 blacks
0 blacks
0 blacks
2 blacks
Total Number of Major League Regulars
11 blacks
21 blacks
27 blacks
60 blacks
Black % of Regulars
6 %
11 %
15 %
24 %

Third:  By 1960, of 125 position players who had been in major league starting line-ups for at least five years since Jackie Robinson's 1947 debut, only 16 (a mere 13 %) were blacks. But the more significant number is that 10 of those 16 were "elite" players whose cumulative wins above replacement (WAR) for their five best years put them among the 10 best position players in their league between 1947 and 1960 or whose career arc wound them up in the Hall of Fame.  See the following earlier post:  That means nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of black position players who were regulars for at least five years were elite players, compared to 18 percent of white position players.  Robinson, Doby, Campanella, Irvin, Minoso, Mays, Aaron, Banks, Clemente, and Frank Robinson were all exceptional players proving they could indeed play with the best players in major league baseball, but integration could not be considered consolidated until black players of more modest abilities were given the opportunity to realistically compete for starting big league jobs.

Finally, by 1964, as shown in the table above, blacks accounted for nearly a quarter of the 247 players who were regulars on (now) 20 major league teams by the criteria mentioned earlier.  Indicative of there no longer being any doubt about blacks in major league baseball, nearly 35 percent of the total number of position players who were regulars in starting line-ups for at least five years between 1961 and 1970 were African American or black Latinos.  However, while only 13 percent of the white position players were elite players as defined above, more than one-third (35 percent) of the black players were elite in that context.  And that does not even include the likes of Reggie Jackson and Rod Carew, whose careers started in the late 1960s but did not reach the five-years-as-a-regular threshold until the early 1970s. While it was now a certainty that black players with superior ability would find a place in major league starting line-ups, it appears that even in the 1960s when it came to players of more average major league ability competing for big league jobs, which is the majority of players, the odds still favored the white player.

Starting Position Players, Comparative Summary

White Players
Black Players

% Elite
% Elite
17 %
73 %
20 %
40 %
18 %
63 %


White Players
Black Players

% Elite
% Elite
10 %
44 %
15 %
18 %
13 %
35 %

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mission Impossible: Phillies Pitchers at Baker Bowl

Philadelphia, the site of last week's SABR conference, has a rich baseball history that includes Baker Bowl, once home to the Phillies.  This Baseball Historical Insight examines how Baker Bowl was so extreme in favoring batters after the dead ball era that it made it impossible for the Phillies to build a quality pitching staff necessary to be competitive.

Mission Impossible:  Phillies Pitchers at Baker Bowl

Baker Bowl, the Philadelphia Phillies' home park from 1895 to 1938 and named after Phillies' owner William Baker after he bought the team in 1913, was probably the most hitter-friendly park in baseball history and an absolute nightmare for pitchers, especially after the dead ball era gave way to the lively ball in the 1920s.   Baker Bowl's dimensions in left, left-center, and even straight-away center field were within the ballpark, so to speak, of contemporary major league stadiums of that era, but adjacent train tracks and a rail yard left precious little space for right field.  It was only 280 feet down the right field line and a mere 300 feet to right-center field. Other parks were short down the right field line--in the National League, New York's Polo Grounds, Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh were all 300 feet or less, as was Yankee Stadium and Cleveland's League Park in the American League (and Boston's Fenway Park was barely over 300 feet)--but the fences in all these parks pulled away sharply to right-center to create open space. The Polo Grounds, for example, with the shortest distance down the lines, had a vast expanse of outfield because of how dramatically the grandstand turned outward, with right and left center fields more than 440 feet away.

The dimensions of Baker Bowl were clearly helpful to the Phillies' greatest left-handed slugger, Chuck Klein, who made a Hall of Fame career by pounding out 246 doubles (leading the league twice) and 191 home runs (leading the league four times) while batting .359 in his first six major league seasons from 1928 to 1933 before being traded to the Cubs primarily for a cash infusion after winning the Triple Crown in 1933.  But 53 percent of his doubles (131) and 68 percent of his going-going-goners (130) were at Baker Bowl, where he also batted .413 during those six years compared to only .305 on the road.  In his Triple Crown season, 20 of Klein's 28 home runs were hit in the friendly confines of Baker Bowl, and his league-leading batting average of .368 was built on a .467 average in 72 games at home rather than his very ordinary .280 average in 80 games on the road.  (Rainouts and scheduling constraints forced the Phillies to make up three postponed home games on the road, in case you're wondering why there were 80 road games instead of 77.)

It is a true truism (as opposed to an anecdotal truism) that good pitching is an essential component of winning teams.  The only Phillies teams to have any success at Baker Bowl were from 1915 to 1917, winning the NL pennant the first year and finished second the next two.  But this was the dead ball era, and the Phillies had Hall of Famers Grover Cleveland Alexander and Eppa Rixey on the pitching staff.  In 1915, when they won the pennant, the Phillies led the league in ERA, and they were third and second in ERA in 1916 and 1917.  Even so, Baker Bowl was a park that was distinctly more favorable to hitters than pitchers.  More runs were scored in Baker Bowl in 1915 than in all but two other National League parks--Chicago's West Side Park and St. Louis's Robison Park--and in 1917 only fans in Weeghman Park in Chicago (later to be renamed Wrigley Field after the chewing gum magnate bought the Cubs) saw more total runs scored than those in the Phillies' home grounds.

After the dead ball era, Baker Bowl's claustrophobic dimensions made it impossible for the Phillies to put together a good pitching staff.  From 1919 until the Phillies moved over to share Shibe Park with Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics in 1938, the Phillies allowed the most runs in the National League every single season except 1934, when they allowed the second-most runs in the league.  More runs were scored by both teams at Baker Bowl than in any other NL park every one of those years except 1927, when the Phillies played 12 home games at Shibe Park, and 1934, when they played only 71 of their scheduled home games at home, and in both those years there were more runs averaged per game at Baker Bowl than in any other NL park.  How bad was it for pitchers on either side?  In 1929, Chuck Klein's first full season with Philadelphia, there were 25 percent more runs scored in Baker Bowl than in any other NL ballpark (Wrigley Field was second), and so it continued each of the next four years when he was mashing his way to a Hall of Fame career: 20 percent more runs scored in Baker Bowl in 1930 (once again ahead of Wrigley); 7 percent more in 1931 (the Cardinals' Sportsman's Park coming in a close second); 28 percent more in 1932 (ahead of Ebbets Field); and 20 percent more runs in 1933 (ahead of Sportsman's Park).

Having to labor in Baker Bowl for half the season, no pitcher was going to have a great career with the Phillies as long as they played there.  And none did after Alexander and Rixey, who had the advantage of pitching before livelier balls were introduced to help facilitate Babe Ruth's home run revolution. Moreover, the tremendous handicap for pitchers at Baker Bowl gave no incentive for the Phillies to try to build a quality pitching staff.  With that 40-foot high tin-covered brick wall in right field topped by an additional 20 feet of fence looming menacingly behind their left shoulders and probably seeming so close they could reach back and touch it, even good pitchers simply were not going to be very successful pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies.  The resounding boom of batted balls banged off the wall no doubt left pitchers shell-shocked, perhaps even just listening to batting practice, let alone what occurred in the game.  

After World War I, the best pitchers to have pitched for the Phillies at Baker Bowl made their mark after they left Philadelphia--Bucky Walters with the Reds and Claude Passeau with the Cubs.  Had Walters and Passeau been condemned to pitch their entire careers with Baker Bowl as their home park, it is likely neither would be remembered in baseball history today.  As for the more notable starting pitchers with the Phillies who were teammates of Mr. Klein and surely welcomed his battering of Baker Bowl's 60-foot high right field wall (including the in-play fence)--righties Phil Collins, Ray Benge, Claude Willoughby, and lefties Les Sweetland and Jumbo Jim Elliott--are not these names lost to history?


Personal Note:  My presentation at this year's conference of the Society for American Baseball Research was entitled, "Consolidating Major League Integration:  A Different Perspective," based on the series of posts on this site related to the movie, 42.