Friday, June 3, 2016

BASEBALL'S DYNASTIES AND THE PLAYERS WHO BUILT THEM- Omitted Bios (Chapter 6 New York Giants 1921-1924)

The bios in this post come from Chapter Six of my latest book, which chronicles the exploits of the the New York Giants in the early-'20s. The Giants are of particular interest to me because they produced so many Hall of Famers yet lost so many World Series. Between 1905 and 1924, the New Yorkers made nine appearances in the Fall Classic, winning only three of them. Including manager John McGraw, there were eight Cooperstown-bound individuals on the 1924 squad alone. How they managed to lose to the Senators is anyone's guess. Though it wasn't an easy decision, I cut loose one of my favorite bios from the final draft of my book--Casey Stengel. "The Ol' Perfessor" was a player in the 1920s and a colorful one at that. Details of his career with the Giants are well worth reading here. I excluded the Jesse Barnes bio because he was traded away early in the 1923 campaign. He's one of those players who has been largely forgotten over the years. 

BEST RECORD: (95-58/1923)
HALL OF FAMERS: John McGraw (MGR), Dave Bancroft (SS), George Kelly (1B), Frankie Frisch (2B/3B), Ross Youngs (OF), Travis Jackson (SS), Casey Stengel (OF), Bill Terry (1B), Hack Wilson (OF)



            Most people know a little something about Casey Stengel. Much has been written about his days at the helm of the Yankees—how he piloted the club to seven world championships and created his own lingo: an obtuse, rambling dialect known to sportswriters as “Stengelese.” Inducted to Cooperstown as a manager in 1966, his contributions as an outfielder have been virtually ignored.

            Casey got his start with the Brooklyn Dodgers in September of 1912. He earned a regular roster spot with a .316 batting average in 17 games. In the minors, he had developed a reputation as an eccentric. During a Southern Association game, he had hidden in a shallow hole in the outfield. The hole had a lid over it and Stengel waited until a ball was hit his way to pop out and make a catch. He would later become famous for hiding a sparrow under his cap and letting it fly out when he tipped his hat to the crowd. Both stories sound apocryphal though numerous sources claim otherwise.

            Stengel was not always popular with management because he engaged in frequent salary disputes. But he was a competent player all around and capable of performing exceptionally for periods of time. During his fourteen-year playing career, he established himself in four cities. He was Brooklyn’s starting right fielder from 1913-1917. In that time, he hit .270 or better on three occasions and led the NL in on-base percentage during the ’14 slate. He also finished among the top ten in triples and homers three times apiece. Traded to Pittsburgh for the 1918 slate, he was used primarily as a reserve player over the course of two seasons. He spent the entire 1920 campaign as a regular in Philly and was off to a .305 start in July of ’21 when McGraw imported him to New York.

            Casey started his Giants career mostly as a pinch-hitter, but injuries to key players in 1922 elevated him to first-string status. He rose to the challenge, hitting .368 in 84 games with a .436 on-base percentage before pulling a leg muscle near season’s end. Limited to a pair of World Series appearances, he went 2-for-5 at the plate.

            In 1923, Stengel began to learn the ropes of managing. McGraw let him coach one of the B-Squads during spring training and even invited Casey to his home for lengthy discussions about strategy. Stengel was off on a .379 tear at the plate when he was suspended for fighting with Philly pitcher Phil Weinert in early-May. Seldom used in June, he was later inserted as a substitute for centerfielder Jimmy O’Connell, whose bat had gone cold. Making his presence known, Stengel hit safely in twenty-three of twenty-six contests from July 12 through August 11. This included a run of sixteen straight games. He finished the regular season at .339. 

            In the 1923 World Series, Stengel hit the first postseason homer in Yankee Stadium history (robbing Babe Ruth of the honor) with an inside-the-parker in Game 1. It broke a 4-4 ninth inning tie and lifted the Giants to a 5-4 win. In Game 3, Stengel delivered the deciding blow again with another homer. He blew kisses to the crowd and thumbed his nose at the Yankee bench while rounding the bases. Commissioner Landis fined the colorful outfielder for his actions. Stengel played in all six contests and hit at a torrid .417 pace.

            In November of 1923, Casey was traded to the Braves along with Dave Bancroft and Bill Cunningham. The ’24 campaign was Stengel’s last as a prime time player. He hit .280 in 134 games with 31 extra-base hits. When his batting average plummeted to .077 in ’25, the Braves shipped him to Worcester, where he served as player/manager and team president. His six years at the helm of the Toledo Mud Hens set the stage for the brilliant major league managerial career that followed. 


            Barnes compiled a lifetime ERA of 3.22—an excellent figure considering that he played a majority of his career during baseball’s offensive renaissance. Still, he managed to lead the league twice in losses. He claimed the dubious honor with the tail-ending Boston Braves in 1917 then again in 1924 with another Braves squad that dropped 100 games. Barnes’s most remarkable seasons were sandwiched in between.

            The talented right-hander caught the attention of John McGraw in 1917 and was traded to the Giants in the offseason. In his New York debut, he pitched a 7-hit shutout. He was off to a 6-1 start before being drafted into the Army. He served until February of 1919.

            Barnes was spectacular in his first full season with the Giants, leading the league with 25 wins while compiling an impressive 2.40 ERA. One of his victories was the fastest nine-inning game on record, lasting a mere fifty-one minutes. He added 20 more victories the following year as the Giants logged their third consecutive second place finish.

            Barnes began to experience arm trouble and, by 1921, he was no longer McGraw’s #1 starter. Before the season began, a New York Times writer quipped: “There arrived yesterday at the Giants’ offices the signed contract for the season of 1921 of Jesse Barnes, twirler who, save for the fact that he has no curls on his forehead, resembles that small heroine of a nursery rhyme in being very, very good when he is good and horrid when he is bad.” That statement seemed quite fitting as Barnes compiled an 5-5 record in the first half then finished the season at 15-9. He posted a 3.10 ERA.

            Barnes was highly effective in the ’21 Fall Classic, making 3 relief appearances and getting credited with a pair of wins. In Game 3, he took over for a struggling Fred Toney in the third inning and held the Yankees to 1 run on 4 hits in a 13-5 Giants’ rout. In Game 6, he bailed out Toney again when the right-hander couldn’t get out of the first inning. Barnes came in and promptly shut the door on the Bombers, working eight and one-third while striking out 10. It was a heroic performance as the Giants emerged with an 8-5 win, knotting the Series at three games apiece.

            Barnes’s regular season win totals dipped again slightly in 1922, but he finished the year at 13-8 while eating up more than 200 innings for McGraw. On May 22 of that year, he turned in the finest performance of his career, a no-hitter against Philadelphia at the Polo Grounds. The Phillies were among the top offensive clubs in the NL that year, finishing first in homers and second in doubles.

            In the ’22 World Series, Barnes was successful again. He went the distance in a 10-inning Game 2 marathon, yielding just 3 runs on 8 hits, but was robbed of a decision when the game was called on account of darkness with daylight still remaining. According to the umpiring crew, a haze had settled over the Polo Grounds, limiting visibility and making the game unplayable. Barnes never got a second start after the Giants won the next three games, capturing their second straight championship.

            In 1923, Barnes’s ERA skyrocketed to 6.25 through early-June. He was packaged in a multi-player deal that sent him back to his point of origin. The Boston Braves were a poor club, but he still managed to win 36 games for them over portions of three seasons. He ended his major league career with Brooklyn in 1927, though he continued in the minors through the 1930 slate.

            Jesse’s brother Virgil, a right-hander who was five years younger, was also a major league pitcher. They played together in New York for portions of three seasons and opposed each other on the mound several times. Together, they recorded 213 career victories—among the top totals for big league siblings.

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