There must have been a slight but confusing communication problem in the New York Highlander clubhouse during the 1908 season. The manager of that team at the start of the season was Hall of Famer, Clark Griffith, who would go on to become the patriarch of baseball in our nation’s capital. Griffith’s ’08 Highlanders were not a very good team. In fact they were so bad, Griffith voluntarily resigned as skipper in early June, telling the press that he had tried everything possible to fix what was wrong with the squad and was simply giving up, indicating that perhaps he himself was a jinx.
I’m sure one of the “everything possible remedies” the bewildered skipper used was regular pep talks to his team. If these were like most managerial pep talks through the ages, Griffith would end his oratories with the battle cry “Now let’s play ball!” Therein may have lied the problem. The Highlander players would probably just sit there looking at each other and thinking to themselves; “We are playing Ball already at shortstop and we’re still losing!”
They would be referring to one Cornelius “Neal” Ball, their 5 foot 7 inch teammate from Grand Haven, MI. Ball started 132 games at shortstop for the Highlanders in that ’08 season, hitting .247 and leading the league in strikeouts with 91. It was the 27-year-old Ball’s first full big league season and it would be his last one with the Yankees. In May of 1909, New York sold Ball to the Cleveland Nats. Two months later, he became the first Major League player in history to execute an unassisted triple play.
Ball and this very good former starting pitcher are the only two members of the Yankee roster I could find who celebrate a birthday on April 22.
|CLE (4 yrs)||306||1092||991||99||260||34||13||4||96||49||62||194||.262||.306||.335||.641|
|NYY (3 yrs)||155||565||519||45||125||18||4||0||45||35||25||112||.241||.278||.291||.569|
|BOS (2 yrs)||41||119||103||19||19||4||0||0||10||8||12||17||.184||.276||.223||.499|
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant is the winning-est manager in Yankee history. Joe McCarthy’s baseball career began as a Minor League infielder who’s bad knee and inability to hit a curve ball prevented him from ever playing in a Major League game. He was playing for Wilkes-Barre in 1912 when the team’s Manager quit. McCarthy was given the job. Just 20-years-old at the time, he was the youngest manager in professional baseball. His team played very well for him and McCarthy realized his future in the sport was as a Manager.
He got his first big league job with the Cubs in 1926. He remained in the Windy City, working for the Wrigley’s for five seasons and won the NL Pennant in 1929. Ironically it was that success, according to a NY Times article about McCarthy written by Joseph Durso, that led to the Manager’s firing as Cub Manager. The Cubs lost the Series to the A’s that year in five games. In Game Four of that Fall Classic, the Cubs had blown an eight-run lead. Chicago owner William Wrigley, who had the money to buy anything he wanted, coveted a World Series trophy. After McCarthy’s team failed to win it in ’29, the chewing gum magnate came to the fateful conclusion that McCarthy was not the field boss who could win him one. A season later, McCarthy was fired by Chicago. During the next thirteen years, Wrigley’s appraisal of his former Manager had been disproved emphatically, not once but seven different times.
Yankee Manager, Miller Huggins had died during the 1929 season. Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert replaced him with one of his team’s former pitching stars, four-time 20-game winner, Bob Shawkey. When Shawkey’s team finished third in 1930 and McCarthy was fired by the Cubs, the Yankee owner outbid the Red Sox for his services. New York teams won 1,460 games during his sixteen total years at the helm, which included six 100-victory seasons, eight American League Pennants and seven World Championships. “Marse Joe” won a total of 2,125 games during his 24-year Major League managerial career, which ended with the Red Sox in 1950. Babe Ruth hated McCarthy because he wanted the Manager’s job himself but both Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio revered him. He was famous for defending his players and accepting blame for any of the team’s defeats or failures on his own shoulders. The most remarkable thing about his record was that during his two-dozen seasons as a big-league skipper, not one of his three teams ever lost more games than they won. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1957 and died in 1978, at the age of ninety.
McCarthy shares his April 21st birthday with this one time Yankee lefty relief specialist.
|6||1931||44||New York Yankees||AL||155||94||59||.614||2|
|7||1932||45||New York Yankees||AL||156||107||47||.695||1||WS Champs|
|8||1933||46||New York Yankees||AL||152||91||59||.607||2|
|9||1934||47||New York Yankees||AL||154||94||60||.610||2|
|10||1935||48||New York Yankees||AL||149||89||60||.597||2|
|11||1936||49||New York Yankees||AL||155||102||51||.667||1||WS Champs|
|12||1937||50||New York Yankees||AL||157||102||52||.662||1||WS Champs|
|13||1938||51||New York Yankees||AL||157||99||53||.651||1||WS Champs|
|14||1939||52||New York Yankees||AL||152||106||45||.702||1||WS Champs|
|15||1940||53||New York Yankees||AL||155||88||66||.571||3|
|16||1941||54||New York Yankees||AL||156||101||53||.656||1||WS Champs|
|17||1942||55||New York Yankees||AL||154||103||51||.669||1||AL Pennant|
|18||1943||56||New York Yankees||AL||155||98||56||.636||1||WS Champs|
|19||1944||57||New York Yankees||AL||154||83||71||.539||3|
|20||1945||58||New York Yankees||AL||152||81||71||.533||4|
|21||1946||59||New York Yankees||AL||1st of 3||35||22||13||.629||3|
|Chicago Cubs||5 years||770||442||321||.579||2.8||1 Pennant|
|New York Yankees||16 years||2348||1460||867||.627||1.8||8 Pennants and 7 World Series Titles|
|Boston Red Sox||3 years||369||223||145||.606||2.3|
|24 years||3487||2125||1333||.615||2.1||9 Pennants and 7 World Series Titles|
What was the worst Yankee team in history? During my time as a Yankee fan the candidates for this dubious honor would be the 1966 team that finished dead last in the AL with a 70-89 record or Stump Merrill’s 1990 squad, which finished at the bottom of the AL East Division with a horrid 67-95 mark. Both those teams filled a summer of my life with sports agony. But when you’re trying to identify the very worst Yankee team in the history of the franchise, you have to place the New York Highlander squad of 1908 at the very top of the heap, or more accurately, the very bottom of the pile.
They finished the season with a 51-103 record, which represents a .331 winning percentage, a low-water mark that has stood as the franchise record for team futility for over a century. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was the starting right-fielder on that 1908 Yankee/Highlander debacle.
New York had acquired Hemphill the previous November in a trade with the Browns. At the time of that deal, this Greenville, Michigan native was 31-years-old and a veteran of eight big league seasons and five different big league franchises. There were good reasons why he kept his suitcase packed all those years. The guy had hands of stone and he had a real problem with alcohol. On the positive side, in an era when the game was played with the deadest baseball of all-time, Hemphill was considered a good stick. It was his ability with a bat that kept him from getting benched for his poor fielding and persistent drinking and it was the same reason why, whenever a team got tired enough of those faults to get rid of him, he seemed to have no trouble finding a new team willing to take him on.
That 1908 Yankee team did not start out bad. Their Manager, Hall-of-Famer Clark Griffith actually got them out of the gate quickly that year by winning 16 of their first 24 games. But when they lost 24 of their next 32 contests, the bitterly disappointed Griffith resigned and the penny-pinching Highlander ownership made New York’s mercurial shortstop, Kid Elberfeld the team’s player-manager. At the time there wasn’t an umpire in the league who didn’t hate Elberfeld. I’m not certain if that collective hatred had anything to do with the Highlanders going 27-71 under their new manager but I can guarantee you that none of the “men in blue” felt a tinge of sorrow for the Kid’s historic failure in his new role.
Just about the only thing that wasn’t horrible on that 1908 Highlander team was the performance of Charley Hemphill. He put together the best season of his big league career. He led the team in runs, hits, RBIs and average. He also stole a career-high 42 bases. The only things that didn’t improve were his defense (he made 20 errors in ’08) and his drinking but Hemphill had built up enough good will with his offensive performance during his inaugural year in New York that he remained a member of the club’s roster for four seasons.
The team finally released him after the 1911 season and he was able to land a coveted player managing position with a minor league team in Atlanta. But before his first season in that post was over, he was fired because of his drinking and ended up moving to Detroit and working in the auto industry.
Hemphill shares his April 20th birthday with one of my all-time favorite Yankees.
|SLB (5 yrs)||629||2682||2425||306||663||72||37||15||232||109||196||267||.273||.329||.352||.681|
|NYY (4 yrs)||386||1460||1238||162||335||30||16||1||90||80||183||111||.271||.369||.323||.692|
|STL (1 yr)||11||45||37||4||9||0||0||1||3||0||6||0||.243||.364||.324||.688|
|BOS (1 yr)||136||595||545||71||142||10||10||3||62||11||39||26||.261||.312||.332||.644|
|CLV (1 yr)||55||209||202||23||56||3||5||2||23||3||6||14||.277||.301||.371||.673|
|CLE (1 yr)||25||102||94||14||25||2||0||0||11||4||5||11||.266||.303||.287||.590|