Monday, May 23, 2016

BASEBALL'S DYNASTIES AND THE PLAYERS WHO BUILT THEM: Omitted Bios (Chapter 4 Philadelphia A's 1910-1914)

Greetings! For anyone just tuning in, I've decided to share some of the biographies that didn't make the final cut in my latest book release. In this installment, we'll be taking a look at the Philadelphia A's of the late-Deadball Era. My reasons for shortening the book were twofold. First and foremost, I wanted to reduce the cover price. Secondly, I was bending to the publisher's will, which was to focus more on higher profile players. There were two thumbnail bios omitted from this particular chapter and you'll find them below. These men ended up getting the axe because neither played a significant role in the A's pennant-winning seasons of 1913/'14.

Best Record: 102-48 (1910)
Number of Pennants: 4
Number of Championships: 3 (1910, 1911, 1913)
Hall of Famers: Connie Mack (Mgr.), Frank "Home Run" Baker (3B), Eddie Collins (2B), Eddie Plank (P), Chief Bender (P)


Jack Coombs


            As a boy, Coombs’s family moved him from Iowa to Maine. In high school, he was a multi-sport star. He attended Colby College and played every position on the diamond while leading the team to multiple championships. He spent his summers playing semi-pro ball in various New England locations. Upon graduating in 1906, he put off further studies at MIT to play for the A’s.

            In his ’06 major league debut, Coombs twirled a 7-hit shutout. His most memorable start of the year came in September, when he ended up on the winning end of a 24-inning pitching duel with Boston’s rookie starter Joe Harris. He was plagued by arm trouble near season’s end and the malady followed him into his sophomore campaign.

            In 1908, Coombs began the season in right field. A switch-hitter, he got off to a hot start, but ended up on the bench when his average fell to .215. In the second half, he resumed pitching responsibilities, compiling a 7-5 record with a handsome 2.00 ERA. He was a mainstay in the A’s rotation during the 1909 slate, making 30 appearances while winning 12 of 22 decisions.  

            In the spring of 1910, Coombs lost his effectiveness and was briefly removed from the rotation. He returned a completely different pitcher, finishing the season with a remarkable total of 31 victories. His 13 shutouts that year are still an American League record. Polishing off one of the finest efforts of the twentieth century, he tossed three complete game victories over the Cubs in the World Series.

            Coombs’s ERA rose to 3.53 in 1911, but he still won 28 games, leading the league for the second straight season. Fittingly, he was on the mound for the A’s pennant-clinching victory in late-September. In the World Series, he prevailed against Christy Mathewson in Game 3 then came within one out of another win in Game 5 before the Giants rallied to tie the score in the bottom of the ninth. Coombs had pulled a groin muscle in the sixth, but refused to be taken out of the game. In the top of the tenth, he aggravated the injury beating out a bunt. He was replaced by Hall of Famer Eddie Plank, who surrendered the winning run. The A’s won the Series the following day at Philadelphia.

            Coombs was still hampered by a sore groin in 1912. Though he sat out for a full month, he won 21 games anyway. The rest of his career in Philly was star-crossed. He became extremely ill with typhoid fever in 1913 and missed most of the season. He lost over fifty pounds and came close to death. His recovery was slow as he sat out all but two late-season games in 1914. On the heels of the A’s humiliating Series loss that year, Coombs was released.

            The resilient right-hander had two more good seasons for the Brooklyn Robins in 1915-’16, notching a 28-18 record in that span. He was hailed by one writer as the “greatest comeback pitcher in the history of baseball.” He served as manager of the Phillies in 1919, but resigned after an 18-44 start. In 1920, he coached for the Tigers and relieved in two games. They were the last major league appearances of his career.

            Upon retiring, he coached college baseball for several schools, most notably Duke University from 1929-1952. He authored an instructional baseball book that became a standard reference manual. In his later years, he conducted an annual baseball clinic for high school players and coaches in Palestine, Texas. He died in 1957 at age seventy-four.

Danny Murphy

 Second Base/ Outfield

            Born in Philadelphia, Murphy joined the A’s in 1902. He was hitting .462 through 49 games in the Connecticut State League when Connie Mack signed him as a replacement for Napoleon Lajoie. In his first major league game, Murphy closely resembled his predecessor as he went 6-for-6 at the plate with an inside-the-park homer off of Cy Young at Boston. Though his numbers quickly fell back to earth, he was one of Philly’s most reliable players for many years.

            Murphy remained at second base until 1908, when Eddie Collins arrived. By then, he was tremendously popular with fans and his shift to right field was not well received by the Philly faithful. Murphy handled his new job quite well, leading the league in fielding percentage in 1909 and finishing second the following year. Collins gave Murphy a lot of credit for helping him polish his skills at second base.

            Murphy finished among the top ten in homers six times, though he didn’t have much power by today’s standards. During his ten seasons as a first-stringer in Philly, he clubbed 27 or more doubles on eight occasions, peaking at 34 in 1905. A speedster on the bases, he posted double digit stolen base totals in ten straight campaigns.

            During the A’s prime years of 1910-1914, Murphy managed a .300 average every season. He put forth his finest offensive effort in 1911, when he hit .329, scored a career-high 104 runs and collected 44 extra-base hits, 11 of which were triples. He exceeded that number three times in his career.

            Murphy had mixed success in the postseason. He flopped in the 1905 Fall Classic, but was a major contributor in 1910-‘11, scoring 10 runs and driving-in 12 more. Appointed team captain by Connie Mack after the 1911 campaign, Murphy broke his kneecap during a stolen base attempt in June of the following year. He was never the same, though he continued to hit well in a diminished role through the 1913 slate.

            In 1914, Murphy migrated to the Federal League. When the circuit folded after the 1915 slate, he was thirty-eight years old and past his prime. He finished his career with the New Haven Murlins of the Eastern League as a player/manager. He coached for the A’s from 1920-1924.

            In 1929, the Associated Press reported that Murphy had been arrested for vagrancy in Chicago. It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. The vagrant being arraigned had listed his name as “Danny Murphy” and, when a member of the court erroneously recognized him as the former ballplayer, he began to spin a tall tale about having fallen on hard times after quitting baseball and losing his wife. Judge Samuel Heller was sympathetic, temporarily releasing the imposter. When the story broke, Hall of Famer Eddie Collins contacted the Judge to inform him that the real Murphy was a successful hardware dealer in Jersey City. The charlatan was taken back into police custody and the Associated Press gladly retracted the story.

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