August 2012

August 31 – Happy Birthday Eddie Plank

The 1917 season had ended, Miller Huggins had just taken over as manager of the Yankees and he was intent on completely re-hauling New York’s underachieving roster. The new skipper desperately wanted to add a good second baseman to his new team’s lineup. That second baseman’s name was Del Pratt, who was playing for the St. Louis Browns at the time and was considered the second best player at that position in the American League, behind only the future Hall-of-Famer, Eddie Collins. Huggins got the permission of Yankee co-owner, Jacob Ruppert, to send three Yankee starting position players and two of the team’s younger pitchers to the Browns for Pratt and the future Hall-of-Fame pitcher Eddie Plank. The problem was that Plank, who was already 42-years-old at the time, had already told the Browns he was retiring. Huggins knew that but he told Ruppert he could talk the veteran southpaw out of quitting to pitch for New York.

Plank had spent the first 14 years of his brilliant career pitching for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s. He had perfected a distinctive cross-body, side-arm pitching motion that helped him win 326 games and throw 69 shutouts. Though he pitched in an era of pitching legends and was often pushed out of the headlines by the likes of Cy Young, Christy Matthewson and Walter Johnson, “Gettysburg Eddie” was as good as it gets on a Major League pitching mound. To visualize Plank at work, think of Mark Fydrich. Like “the Bird,” Plank employed constant motion and muttering on the pitching mound. When he wasn’t tugging at his jersey, tightening the laces on his spikes or furiously rubbing up the baseball, he’d be talking to himself, the batter, his catcher, the ump or anyone who’d listen to him. If you’re one of the many who thinks it takes Josh Beckett too long to throw a pitch, you’d probably would have been screaming at Plank. He could take forever to agree on a sign with his catcher and God forbid if there was a runner on first base because Eddie would often just stare at him until the player shortened his lead or Plank’s stare lulled him to sleep and he picked the guy off.

In 1915, Plank had abandoned the A’s and jumped to the rival Federal League to play for the St. Louis franchise, where he won 21 games. When that franchise went under, its owner purchased the Browns and brought Plank back to the AL. Though he was able to win 16 games at the age of 40, the years were catching up to him and when he went 5-6 for St Louis in 1917, he told the team he was going back to his farm in Pennsylvania and staying there.

Huggins assured the New York sports press that he would convince Plank to pitch again in 1918. The Yankee skipper’s plan was to stop by Plank’s farm on the way to spring training, make him an offer he couldn’t refuse and bring Plank south with him. But when Huggins arrived at spring training he was alone and Plank was still on his farm. The Browns sent the Yankees a rebate check for $2,500, a great career was over and the newest Yankee was never a Yankee after all.

This former Yankee outfielder shares Plank’s August 31 birthday.