Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Best Pitching Duos in History (Part II--1910-1919)

Jack Coombs and Eddie Plank/ Philadelphia A's (1910-1912)

Nicknamed "Colby Jack," Coombs was the most successful player to come from Colby College in Maine. He was off to a highly promising start in the majors before he fell ill with typhoid fever during spring training of 1913. He was never the same. Traded to Brooklyn, he won 28 games in 1915/ '16, but was ineffective after that. During his time with the A's, he led the league twice in victories and posted a 4-0 record in World Series play. He briefly held the record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched, stringing together 53 shutout frames in 1910. Walter Johnson reset the mark three seasons later. Coombs hit well for a pitcher, reaching a career-high batting mark of .319 in 1911. He drilled 2 homers while driving in 23 runs that year.

Eddie Plank appeared in my last post paired with strikeout specialist Rube Waddell. Plank's era of dominance stretched well into the second decade of the twentieth century and he formed a potent one-two punch with Coombs for three seasons.
The A's won two World Series while Coombs and Plank were in their prime.

     (Won/Loss)                            1910            1911           1912

     Jack Coombs                          31-9            28-12           21-10
     Eddie Plank                            16-10           23-8             26-6

Rube Marquard and Christy Mathewson/ New York Giants (1911-1913)

A left-hander, Marquard got off to a slow start in the majors. After signing with the Giants for a record $11,000, he won just 9 games in his first two full seasons. Dubbed the "$11,000 Lemon," he got back on track, winning 24 games in 1911 and 26 more the following year. In 1912, he prevailed in 19 consecutive decisions beginning on opening day--a record that still stands. He played in five World Series with New York and Brooklyn, never ending up on the winning side. The Veteran's Committee at Cooperstown determined him to be Hall of Fame worthy in 1971.

Mathewson was another player featured in a previous post (feel free to review it). "Matty" appears prominently among the all time leaders in wins, ERA and shutouts. In the annals of Giants' history, there simply has never been another like him. "Mathewson was the greatest pitcher who ever lived," contended Connie Mack. "He had knowledge, judgement, perfect control and form."    
The Giants won three pennants with Mathewson and Marquard working together.

     (Won/Loss)                                  1911          1912          1913

     Rube Marquard                              24-7          26-11         23-10
    Christy Mathewson                       26-13         23-12         25-11

Harry Coveleski and Hooks Dauss/ Detroit Tigers (1914-1916)

For a short while, Harry Coveleski was just as successful as his Hall of Fame brother Stan. Harry was nicknamed "The Giant Killer" for his success against the Gotham squad. He bounced up and down from the majors to the minors for four seasons before landing in Detroit for the 1914 slate. During his first three seasons in the Motor City, he won no fewer than 20 games and worked more than 300 innings each year. The heavy workload led to arm trouble. He made several unsuccessful comeback attempts. Stan and Harry had a mutual agreement never to pitch against one another.

A right-hander, Dauss got his nickname for his highly effective curveball. Over the course of his fifteen-year career, he won 223 games for Detroit--a franchise record. He was known to lose the plate at times, finishing among the top ten in wild pitches on five occasions. His lifetime hit by pitch totals place him at #49 on the all time list. Diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat after the '26 campaign, he retired.  
Despite the potent combination of Dauss and Coveleski, the Tigers failed to capture a pennant when the two were at their peak.

     (Won/Loss)                                1914          1915           1916

     Harry Coveleski                          22-12         22-13          21-11
     Hooks Dauss                              19-15         24-13          19-12

Jim Bagby and Stan Coveleski/ Cleveland Indians (1917-1920)

In a Hall of Fame career that spanned 14 seasons, Stan Coveleski (Harry's little brother) averaged 15 wins per year. His bread and butter pitch was the spitball, which was notoriously difficult to control. Coveleski aimed high so that the elusive offering would dip into the strike zone as it crossed the plate. He led the American League in ERA twice and winning percentage once. In 1920, he was the star of the World Series, recording 3 complete game victories over the Brooklyn Robins. His efforts lifted the Indians to the first championship in franchise history.

While playing in the South Atlantic League in 1912, Bagby got into an outfield collision that fractured his forearm. It would prove to be a fortunate mishap as it dramatically improved his curveball. Like many pitchers of the era, Bagby carried a heavy workload, working 270 or more innings four times between 1916 and 1920. The innings took their toll as his ERA rose by nearly 200 points after winning 31 games in 1920. He was finished in the majors after 1923.   

    (Won/Loss)                           1917          1918         1919          1920
     Jim Bagby                             23-13         17-16         17-11         31-12
     Stan Coveleski                      19-14         22-13         24-12         24-14

Babe Ruth and Carl Mays/ Boston Red Sox (1916-1918)

Before he started breaking down American League fences, Babe Ruth was a full time pitcher and a great one at that. between 1916 and 1918, his ERA never exceeded 2.22. He finished among the top 5 in strikeouts twice in that span. Ruth's World Series pitching line was exemplary as he assembled a streak of 29.1 scoreless innings. The record stood until Whitey Ford broke it in 1961. Ruth began spending more time in the outfield as his career progressed and, in 1918, he won 13 games on the hill while swatting 11 homers and driving in 66 runs--among the greatest performances of its kind. 

Mays was known for his sour temperament, which was described by one contemporary as being roughly equivalent to that of a man "with a permanent toothache." Disgruntled with what he perceived as poor run support in 1919, he deserted the Red Sox in the middle of a game. He would later gain notoriety in New York for killing Ray Chapman with an errant pitch. Using a submarine delivery, Mays won 208 games over 15 seasons.

          (Won/Loss)                         1916              1917            1918

          Babe Ruth                           23-12              24-13           13-7
          Carl Mays                           18-13              22-9             21-13

Walter Johnson and Jim Shaw/ Washington Senators (1917-1919)

Ty Cobb paid Walter Johnson the highest compliment when he said: "[Johnson] was the only pitcher I ever faced who made the ball whistle. You could actually hear it as it crossed the plate...and it made you shaky in the knees." Commenting on Johnson's superior control before his promotion from the minors in 1907, Senators manager Joe Cantillon remarked: "he knows where he's throwing because if he didn't there would be dead bodies all over Idaho." Over the course of baseball history, there have been few pitchers who have measured up to "The Big Train." 417 career victories and a 2.17 ERA in seventeen seasons says it all. 

Though "Grunting Jim" Shaw failed to make a household name of himself, he was an important member of the Senators' rotation for several years. In addition to starting duties, he was used out of the bullpen fairly often, leading the league in saves twice. In 1918/'19, he finished second to his Hall of Fame staff mate in strikeouts. He actually had a better strikeout per 9 inning ratio than Johnson in 1918. The following year, Shaw led the AL in innings pitched with 306.2. It was the end of him as his ERA rose over 150 points in 1920. He was out of majors after 1921.
The tandem of Johnson and Shaw was especially remarkable considering the fact that the Senators finished below .500 twice during their peak years together. With shaky defense and minimal run support, the two hurlers still managed to combine for no fewer than 37 wins in a 3-year span. From 1917-1920, they accounted for at least 52% of the team's total win share.That figure peaked at an incredible 66% in 1920.

     (Won/Loss)                             1917               1918                  1920

     Walter Johnson                        23-16              23-13                20-14
     Jim Shaw                                 15-14              16-12                17-17

Lefty Williams and Eddie Cicotte/ Chicago White Sox (1917, 1919-'20)

Williams was one of eight White Sox players banned from baseball for participating in the 1919 World Series fix. The slender southpaw had an excellent curveball and a phenomenal defense playing behind him. Before the Chicago conspiracy was brought to light, Williams finished the 1920 campaign with 22 wins, though his ERA was negatively effected by the advent of the so-called "lively ball" era. After his banishment, he continued in the outlaw leagues for a few years then entered the landscaping business.  

Cicotte was a crafty junk-baller who employed several trick pitches, including the knuckleball, spitball and emery ball. In the 1919 World Series, his numbers looked convincing on the surface (2.91 ERA/ 19 hits in 21.2 innings), but there were some who found his performances to be a bit on the burlesque side. He was cruising through three and a third frames in Game 1 before suddenly yielding 5 straight hits. In Game 4, he made a pair of blatant errors that allowed the winning runs to score. After his banishment from baseball, he lived under a pseudonym to protect his family and kept his activities clean.

(Won/Loss)                                 1917                 1919                 1920
Ed Cicotte                                    28-12                29-7                   21-10
Lefty Williams                             17-8                  23-11                 22-14

Honorable Mention:
Dick Rudolph and Bill James/ Boston Braves 1914

The 1914 Braves got off to one of the worst starts in franchise history. By the end of May, they were rooted in last place with a dreadful 10-22 record. They occupied that lowly position until mid-July, when an improbable turnaround occurred. Using an effective platoon system employed by manager George Stallings, the Bostonians went on a 50-14 run in the waning months of summer to capture a pennant. In the World Series, they completed an improbable sweep f the powerful A's, earning the nickname "Miracle Braves." The club owed much to the pitching of Dick Rudolph and Bill James.

James was nicknamed "Seattle Bill" to distinguish him from another pitcher with the same name. After going 6-10 in his major league debut, he had one of the greatest seasons in modern history, posting 26 regular season wins. He added a pair of victories in the World Series. An arm injury derailed his major league career in 1915 and a comeback attempt several years later was unsuccessful.

Rudolph's career lasted longer than James, though his best seasons were packed into a short span. After matching James's win total in 1914, he led the league in losses the following year. He enjoyed his last great season in 1916, collecting 19 victories and accruing a 2.16 ERA.
Though it was only for one season, Rudolph and James formed one of the most potent one-two punches in baseball history. 

       1914                                     W/L          ERA

     Dick Rudolph                         26-10         2.36
      Bill James                               26-7           1.90

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Best Pitching Duos in History (Part I--1900-1909)

Joe McGinnity and Christy Mathewson/ New York Giants (1903-'06)

McGinnity, a right-hander, used a submarine delivery that was relatively easy on his arm. His nickname "Iron Man" did not arise from his durability. It was a reference to his job as an iron worker.The moniker could easily have been applied to his baseball career as he led the National League in innings pitched four times while averaging 344 innings per year during his ten years in the majors. He won more than 20 games eight times and was a league-leader in that category on five occasions. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1946.

Mathewson, also a right-hander, was known to fans and teammates as "Matty" or "Big Six." Commissioner Landis once remarked that: "[Mathewson's] sense of justice, his integrity and sportsmanship made him far greater than Christy Mathewson the pitcher." (It should be noted that Landis could be a particularly harsh judge of character.) In seventeen seasons, Mathewson collected 373 wins--third on the all time list. He captured two pitching triple crowns (in '05 and '08) and retired with a 2.13 ERA, which is among the top ten marks in history. Exposed to poison gas during WWI military training, he sustained serious damage to his lungs that eventually killed him at the age of 45. He was among the original Cooperstown class of '36.

The Giants won two pennants and one World Series while Mathewson and McGinnity were in their prime.
  (Won/Loss)                  1903          1904          1905          1906
Joe McGinnity                   31-20          35-8         22-16         27-12
Christy Mathewson           30-13         33-12         32-8          22-12

Rube Waddell and Eddie Plank/ Philadelphia A's (1902-'05)

I wrote about Waddell at length a few weeks ago (feel free to review the post). Though he was obviously suffering from some mental deficiency, he was a top shelf hurler for nearly a decade. The eccentric left-hander claimed a triple crown in 1905 with 27 wins, 287 strikeouts and a 1.48 ERA. Among the game's premier strikeout artists, he led the American League in K's from 1902 through 1907. His lifetime earned run average of 2.16 places him at #11 on the all time list. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1946.

Eddie Plank, another southpaw, was Connie Mack's most dependable hurler from 1901-1914. He won no fewer than 14 games in that span, posting at least 20 victories seven times. He led the AL in shutouts twice and retired with 326 lifetime wins. He pitched until he was 41 years-old and still managed an economical ERA of 1.79 in his last season.  His call to Cooperstown came in 1946.

The A's made one World Series appearance with Plank and Waddell in the rotation.
  (Won/Loss)                 1902          1903          1904          1905
  Rube Waddell                  24-7         23-16         26-17         26-11
  Eddie Plank                     20-15       22-16         26-17         25-12

Cy Young and Bill Dinneen/ Boston Americans (1902-1904)

Young's career straddled two centuries and was so successful, he ended up with a prestigious award being named after him. He holds one of the most impregnable records with 511 career wins. His name is synonymous with durability as he is baseball's all time leader in starts, complete games, inning pitched and batters faced. Additionally, he won a triple crown in 1902 with 33 victories, 158 K's and a 1.62 ERA. He was elected to Cooperstown in 1937.

A right-hander, Dinneen's career accomplishments pale in comparison to Young, but he was an extremely reliable pitcher for several seasons. Dinneen is the only moundsman to pitch a no-hitter and serve as an umpire for another. From 1899 through 1904, he won no fewer than 14 games and reached the 20-win threshold four times. He kept his ERA below 3.00 in seven of his twelve seasons. As an arbiter, he was a member of eight World Series crews. He appeared in one Fall Classic as a player and was the star of the show, collecting 3 wins over Pittsburgh in '03--including the first shutout in Series history.

Boston made just one postseason appearance while Young and Dinneen were staff mates.
   (Won/Loss)               1902          1903          1904   
    Cy Young                      32-11          28-9          26-16
    Bill Dinneen                  21-12          21-11        23-14

Three-Finger Brown and Ed Reulbach/ Chicago Cubs (1906-1909)

Mordecai Brown lost most of his right index finger in a piece of farm equipment as a boy. Shortly afterward, he fell while chasing a rabbit and broke the remaining fingers. He was left with a deformed hand that gave his pitches dramatic movement. From 1906-1911, there were few hurlers in the majors who equaled him as he won at least 20 games every year. Extremely versatile, he led the league in saves during four straight campaigns. Averaging 17 victories per season, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1949.

Ruelbach was solidly built at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. He led the National League in winning percentage for three straight years. His ERA never exceeded 2.03 from 1905-'09. Traded to Brooklyn in 1913, he ended up jumping to the Federal League two years later. It was his last great season as he posted 21 victories. After the Federal League folded, he finished his career with the Braves, retiring with 182 wins.

The Cubs made three straight World Series appearances with Brown and Ruelbach in the rotation. The '06 squad was among the greatest ever with a record of 116-36.
   (Won/Loss)                    1906          1907          1908          1909  
   Three Finger Brown          26-6          20-6           29-9          27-9
   Ed Ruelbach                        19-4          17-4            24-7         19-10 

Deacon Phillippe and Jesse Tannehil/ Pittsburgh Pirates (1900-'02)

Phillipe started out with the Louisville Colonels in 1899. He was transferred to the Pirates in a blockbuster deal that involved a total of sixteen players, among them Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke. Born Charles Phillippe, the right-hander was given the nickname "Deacon" on account of his reserved, humble demeanor and quiet lifestyle. He averaged less than two walks per nine frames during his career and once commented that: "It's a cold day when I get three balls on a man." From 1899-1903, he won 20 games every year. Arm trouble shortened his career to thirteen seasons. He averaged 14 victories per year.

Tannehill came up with the Reds organization, but his breakthrough season came with the Pirates in 1898, when he posted a 25-13 record with a 2.95 ERA. It was the beginning of an eight-year run of excellence. The southpaw won 20 games six times between 1898 and 1906, leading the NL with an ERA of 2.18 in 1901. Tannehill hit well enough to be used in the outfield 87 times during his career. He accrued a lifetime batting average of .255 with 80 extra-base hits and 142 RBIs in 507 games. 

The Pirates won two pennants while Phillippe and Tannehill shared pitching responsibilities. There was no World Series then. It should be noted that the Pirates had a third dependable starter during the period in question: Hall of Famer Jack Chesbro, who won 28 games in '02 before signing with the New York Highlanders. 
   (Won/Loss)                 1900          1901          1902
Deacon Phillippe              22-12         20-9          20-13
Jesse Tannehill                18-10         20-6           20-6     

Doc White and Ed Walsh/ Chicago White Sox (1906-'08)

Razor-thin at 6-foot-1, 150 pounds, Guy White studied at Georgetown University, receiving a dentistry degree in 1902 (hence the nickname "Doc"). Originally signed by the Phillies, he jumped to the White Sox in 1903. He would spend eleven seasons in Chicago, winning no fewer than 15 games on seven occasions. In 1907, he led the American League with 27 victories after pacing the loop with an ERA of 1.52 the previous year. He retired with 189 career wins.

Walsh holds the record for lowest lifetime ERA at 1.82. A spit-baller, he reportedly used the quirky pitch up to ninety percent of the time. Walsh carried an unimaginably heavy workload, reaching the 400-inning threshold twice. His total of 464 innings in 1908 is a twentieth century record that will almost certainly never be broken.The big right-hander tossed 300-plus innings in three other campaigns. A 40-game winner in '08, he retired with 195 career victories and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1946.

With Walsh and White leading the way, the White Sox pulled off an improbable Series win over the Cubs in 1906. The heavily favored Cubs had won 116 games while the Sox had batted just .230 as a team. Dubbed "The Hitless Wonders," the White Sox eliminated their crosstown rivals in six games. 
   (Won/Loss)               1906          1907          1908
   Ed Walsh                       17-13         24-18         40-15
   Doc White                      18-6           27-13          18-13


Monday, December 16, 2013

Players Who Struggled With Mental Illness (Part IX-- Dontrelle Willis)

Selected by the Cubs in the eighth round of the 2000 amateur draft, Willis spent two successful seasons in the minors before getting traded to the Florida Marlins. In 2003, he made his big league debut.

--And What a debut it was!

The 21 year old left-hander with the high leg kick and buoyant personality went 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA, earning Rookie of the Year honors while helping his club to a World Series upset of the New York Yankees. After an off-year in '04, he returned to form, leading the National League in wins (22), complete games (7) and shutouts (5). It was a feel-good story. The son of a single mother who worked as a welder had become the most dynamic hurler in the game.

--And he hadn't even celebrated his 25th birthday yet!

In the years that followed, it became clear that something was wrong. Willis's earned run average rose more than 100 points in '06. He had difficulty finding the plate and began to experience problems off the field as well. In a highly publicized incident, he was arrested for driving under the influence. It was all downhill from there. By 2007, he was no longer a reliable starter. Cast adrift by the Marlins, he wound up in Detroit, where he fashioned a stratospheric ERA and began a long series of minor league stints. In 2009, a mental health diagnosis surfaced as Willis was placed on on the disabled list with Social Anxiety Disorder.

People with SAD have an irrational fear of being judged or evaluated and worry incessantly about embarrassing themselves. The anxiety created by the illness is acute enough to interfere with daily functioning. Physical symptoms include profuse sweating, trembling hands, muscle tension and a racing heart. SAD is one of the most common mental disorders with up to 13% of the population experiencing symptoms at some point in their lives.

Willis's diagnosis had been made in the absence of any apparent symptoms and he disputed it. "Even when I went on the DL, I felt fine," he told reporters. "I'm not a depressed guy. Maybe I'm hard on myself, but I wouldn't have gotten here if I wasn't...As far as how I feel, I don't have a condition." Regardless of Willis's perception of the situation, he has yet to get back on track. He retired in frustration after compiling an 0-5 record with Cincinnati in 2011. In January of 2013, he decided to give it another try, signing a minor league contract with the Cubs. He posted an unwieldy 6.43 ERA at the Triple-A level and was granted free agency. 

Whether or not Willis's story will have a happy ending is unknown at this point, but he is not alone. In 2009, Reds' first baseman Joey Votto suffered debilitating panic attacks after the death of his father. He sought medical attention twice. The following year, he was named NL MVP. Pitcher Zack Grienke nearly quit baseball due to depression and anxiety early in his career. With the help of counseling and anti-depressants, he went on to capture a Cy Young Award with the Royals in 2009. One can only hope that one day Willis will return to his former glory. At the time of this writing, he was only 31 years old.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Players Who Struggled With Mental Illness (Part VIII--Ed Doheny)

A left-handed pitcher, Doheny joined the Giants in 1895 and spent portions of seven seasons in New York, posting a 37-69 record for a team that rarely contended. Doheny had control issues early in his career, tossing 40 wild pitches and plunking 57 batters between 1898 and 1899 (the highest totals in the NL). His worst season came in 1900, when he won just 4 of 18 decisions and accrued an ugly ERA of 5.45. Released by the Giants in July of 1901, the Pirates grabbed him off of the scrap heap. Doheny enjoyed a career revival in Pittsburgh, compiling a 38-14 record with a 2.75 ERA during his two and a half seasons there. But his rise to stardom was cut short by mental illness.

Doheny had been behaving erratically throughout his career. In 1897, he was suspended repeatedly for "breaches of discipline." Whether or not this can be attributed to his illness is uncertain as the Giants were owned by Andrew Freedman at the time, a tyrannical leader described by one source as having a "violent temper and ungovernable tongue." He was certainly not an easy man to work for, especially for someone as unstable as Doheny. 

Despite various behavioral problems, Doheny held it together (more or less) until 1903. Off to an excellent 12-6 start, he began consuming massive amounts of alcohol and acting strangely. This led to a handful of unpleasant run-ins with teammates. He became convinced that he was being followed by detectives and left the team without permission in July. Newspapers speculated accurately that he was not of sound mind. Though he added four more wins to his season total, the Pirates were forced to grant him a leave of absence near seasons' end when his behavior became unmanageable. He returned to his home in Andover, Mass and was placed under constant care of a physician.

Doheny's condition worsened and, while his Pirates were playing against Boston in the first official World Series, he suffered a final psychotic break. On October 10th, he literally threw his doctor out the front door of his home and told him never to return. On the morning of October 11th, Doheny viciously attacked his male nurse with a cast iron stove leg, seriously injuring the man. Doheny's wife fled to a neighbor's house during the altercation and called the police. Doheny met authorities at the door, waving a fireplace poker around and daring them to take him away. They did exactly that, escorting him to Danvers State Asylum, where he remained for more than a decade. 

In 1905, former Pittsburgh outfielder Jimmie Sebring paid Doheny a visit at the facility. When Sebring told Doheny that he had left the Pirates for Cincinnati, Doheny became agitated. “So they ran you out of there just as they did me!” He snarled. “They threw it to me good. And you were one of those who gave it to me, too!” A reporter for the Pittsburgh Press recounted the incident and commented that “Doheny will never recover. Danvers, a tomb for the living, will hold him until the end.” That statement wasn’t entirely correct as the former pitching standout was transferred to the Medfield State Asylum in 1916. He died in December of that year. It seems more than likely that he was suffering from schizophrenia.   

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Players Who Struggled With Mental Illness (Part VII-- Jim Eisenreich)

Named after the man who discovered it, Tourette's Syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by two types of tics: motor and vocal. Most sufferers develop an eye tic first. Other tics come afterward with the intensity typically increasing during adolescence. Tics can be embarrassing since they are involuntary and take on a variety of forms from frequent throat-clearing to the utterance of profanity. Many people with Tourette's have other illnesses such as Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder or Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder. Tourette's can also exacerbate symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Jim Eisenreich grew up in St. Cloud, Minnesota. At age 6, he began showing signs of the illness with tics, jerks and eye blinking. Little was known about the disorder at the time and even a hometown doctor didn't understand what was going on with Eisenreich. Kids at school picked on him mercilessly and he spent a lot of time alone wondering about his sanity.

Despite the disorder, Eisenreich was an exceptional ballplayer. Upon graduating from high school, he played for St. Cloud University and ended up getting drafted by the Twins. After hitting over .300 in two consecutive minor league seasons, he was called to Minnesota. In 1982, he began displaying symptoms during games. Though the behaviors were dismissed as "rookie nerves," he was taken out of the lineup for his "twitches and facial grimaces." Before a May game at Fenway Park, a Boston newspaper ran a feature about his on-field troubles and fans in the bleachers heckled him relentlessly. By the third inning, Eisenreich was shaking profusely and experiencing breathing difficulty. He was eventually  removed from the game. His troubles continued shortly afterward during a series at Milwaukee, when he suddenly bolted from the outfield to the dugout, tearing off his uniform and complaining that he couldn't breathe. He ended up on the disabled list.

Eisenreich saw numerous doctors and received multiple diagnoses. He tried medications and self-hypnosis, but nothing seemed to work. He retired more than once, but the Twins talked him into continuing, convinced that he was a "natural ballplayer." In June of '84, he refused a minor league assignment and was released. Interestingly, his replacement was Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett.

Out of the majors for the next three years, Eisenreich worked as a part-time painter and played semi-pro ball for the St. Cloud Saints. He was "rediscovered" by a former college teammate who had become an administrative assistant for the Kansas City Royals. Invited to spring training in '87 as a non-roster player, Eisenreich began to publicly talk about Tourette Syndrome, which he believed was causing his problems (despite a contrary opinion from his personal physician). He began the '87 campaign in the Southern League and was quickly promoted to KC after he hit .382 in 70 games. He would bounce up and down from the majors to the minors before finally attaining full-time status with the Royals in 1989. He was named team MVP that year despite the presence of George Brett and Bo Jackson.

 Eisenreich enjoyed his most productive years from '89-'97, exceeding the .300 mark at the plate five times in that span. With the Phillies in '96, he fashioned a .361 average in 113 games. He would play in two Fall Classics during his career--one with Philly and another with Florida (which earned him a ring). He posted a .294 average with 2 homers and 10 RBI's in World Series play.

Upon retiring, Eisenreich established a foundation for children with Tourette Sydrome. He still tours the country speaking to families and children about his experiences. The mission statement of the foundation is "to build avenues of success for every child with Tourette Syndrome through programs and services which address the needs of families, educators, peers and medical professionals."    

Friday, November 29, 2013

Players Who Struggled With Mental Illness (Part VI-- Chick Stahl)

In the annals of Red Sox history, the story of Chick Stahl is among the more puzzling and tragic. A key contributor to Boston’s first world championship, he would firmly establish himself as one of the top outfielders in the game. But personal problems would drive him to suicide in the prime of his career. More than a hundred years later, his death remains shrouded in mystery.

Stahl grew up in Fort Wayne and got his first big break with the Roanoke Magicians of the Virginia State League in 1895. He doubled as a pitcher but ultimately became a full-time outfielder after accruing a .311 batting average with 49 extra-base hits. Signed by the Buffalo Bisons of the Eastern League the following year, he led the circuit in triples and runs scored.

 The Boston Beaneaters acquired his contract in 1897. Though Manager Frank Selee intended to use him as a stopgap in the outfield, Slahl quickly earned a full-time position with his reliable bat and smooth fielding. By the end of the year, he had established a franchise record for rookies with an impressive .354 batting average. The Beaneaters won the pennant in ’97 and ’98 as Stahl played marvelously both years.

After the 1900 slate, teammate Jimmy Collins landed a contract to play and manage for a different Boston squad in the newly formed American League. He convinced Stahl to follow him. Stahl put up sturdy numbers for the fledgling ball club in 1901, finishing among the league leaders in numerous statistical categories. 

A leg injury in 1903 limited Stahl to 77 games, but he recovered sufficiently to appear in baseball’s first official World Series. The marquee outfielder played in all eight games against Pittsburgh, collecting 10 hits—4 of them for extra bases—in a Boston win. The following season, he led the league with 19 triples, helping the Americans to another pennant. 

Inexplicably, the entire Boston club fell into a slump in 1905. Catcher Lou Criger hit .198 while four other regulars failed to surpass the .250 mark. Stahl ended up nearly fifty points below his career average as the Americans dropped to fourth place with a mediocre 78-74 record. Stahl got back on track the following year, but the club played abysmally. Even the great Cy Young posted a substandard 13-21 record on the mound. With the team floundering in last place during late-August, Manger Jimmy Collins took an unauthorized vacation and was suspended. Stahl was named active manager. He was even less successful than his predecessor, guiding the club to a pitiful 9-21 September record. In what would prove to be the last game of his career, he homered off of New York Highlanders’ pitcher Tom Hughes. 

In November of ’06, Stahl married Julia Harmon, whom he had met at a church function. He also accepted the manager’s position for ’07 at the urging of owner John Taylor. Even with the endorsement of his good friend Jimmy Collins, he took the job with reluctance.  Well-liked by teammates, Stahl’s kind-hearted personality made him ill-suited to run a baseball club. Before the team had even finished spring training, he resigned from his post, explaining that the release of players (a frequent occurrence that time of year) made him “sick at heart.” He agreed to serve as temporary acting manager until a replacement was secured.   

Stahl sent a telegram to his wife, telling her he felt good about his decision. He added that, with managerial distractions aside, he could now go out and play to the best of his abilities. But it was not to be. According to some sources, he developed a wound that was slow to heal at some point during the spring and was given carbolic acid—a widely used antiseptic—to clean it with. On March 28th, he ate breakfast, checked the state of the practice field and returned to his hotel suite, which he shared with Jimmy Collins. Collins witnessed Stahl disappear into an adjacent room then stagger back toward his bed shortly afterward. Having consumed a lethal dose of carbolic acid, he collapsed in a heap.

Several accounts of Stahl’s final words exist. The most widely accepted is as follows: “I couldn’t help it. I did it, Jim. It was killing me and I couldn’t stand it...” Stahl writhed in agony and died within fifteen minutes of ingesting the poison. Since his death was listed as a suicide, he was denied a Catholic burial. His funeral was attended by thousands nevertheless with the eulogy being delivered by Congressman James Robinson.  

The reasons for Stahl’s suicide and the nature of his dying words would be debated for many years. A reputable source claimed that Stahl had a “dark secret,” but it was never revealed to the public. Several notable historians believe that, in March of 1907, Stahl was threatened with blackmail by a woman who claimed to be carrying his child. The impending scandal theoretically drove him to suicide. Valuable insight was provided in a news story published shortly after Stahl’s death. In it, several close associates confided that the popular star had been suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts for years. Predisposed to feelings of hopelessness, the stress of managing a slumping major league club must have been quite difficult to bear. 

In a racy theory based on circumstantial evidence, it has also been suggested that Stahl was having a homosexual affair with a man named David Murphy, a railroad engineer. Murphy, described as an “intimate friend” of Stahl’s, took his own life with carbolic acid and left a note requesting that he be buried next to the fallen ballplayer. Some researchers believe that this may have been Stahl’s previously mentioned “dark secret.”

In Stahl’s absence, four different men managed the Boston club in 1907, including Cy Young. The impact of Stahl’s death was immense and proved to be a major distraction all year as the team finished in seventh place with a 59-90 record. 
(NOTE: A slightly different version of this appears in my book: Baseball's Most Notorious Personalities: A Gallery of Rogues.)