October 6th, 2013
I learned a lot about today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant by reading this excellent article authored by Bill Nowlin for the the Society for American Baseball Research. It describes a young man who believed in the power of education and as a high school student in Philadelphia, was genuinely torn between going to college to pursue a career in medicine or playing professional baseball. In the end, the immediate opportunity to start in Connie Mack’s infield for his hometown Philadelphia A’s was just too compelling for John Knight to pass up.
He would become as much of a national sports sensation as one could back in 1905, before radio, television or the Internet were around, when he was the Opening Day nineteen-year-old starting shortstop for Philadelphia and was leading the league with a .400-plus batting average two weeks into the new season. He wasn’t able to maintain that torrid hitting pace and it would be his inability to hit big league pitching that landed him in the minor leagues, playing for the Baltimore Orioles, by 1908. That August, Knight’s contract was purchased by the New York Highlanders.
Knight realized his future in baseball would depend on his ability to become a better hitter and as he joined his new team, he was determined to do so. His efforts certainly bore some fruit. The Highlanders’ first year manager George Stallings made Knight his team’s starting shortstop in ’09 and he hit a career-high .236. In 1910, his offensive epiphany exploded into a .312 batting average and he followed that up by posting a career-high 62 RBIs in 1911. In just six years, he had transformed himself from an offensive liability into one of the game’s better hitting shortstops and Clark Griffith, the former New York manager who now skippered the Senators, noticed. He made it known that he was interested in acquiring Knight and kept poking the Highlander front office with trade offers for the infielder all during the 2011 season. New York finally bit during the 1912 spring training season when they accepted Washington catcher’s Gabby Street for Knight.
His short stay in our nation’s capitol was a disaster. Griffith started Knight at second base and it seemed as if he forgot how to hit and field, both at the same time. He averaged just .161 during the first half of that year and was then sold to a minor league club in New Jersey. He would end up getting a second chance with the Highlanders after he hit .270 for his Jersey City team during the first half of the 1913 season. He did OK with New York, starting at first base and averaging .236 for a very bad Highlander team but it wasn’t good enough to prevent him from getting sold back to the minors at the end of the year. He would remain a minor league player for the rest of his career, finally retiring for good in 1928, at the age of 42.
Knight’s early career start in the big leagues earned him the most appropriate nickname of “Schoolboy.” At just over six feet two inches tall, Knight was the tallest shortstop in the big leagues.
|NYY (4 yrs)||435||1714||1494||197||399||59||16||6||171||63||138||213||.267||.338||.340||.678|
|PHA (3 yrs)||202||776||717||63||144||26||4||6||61||11||38||157||.201||.244||.273||.517|
|WSH (1 yr)||32||116||93||10||15||2||1||0||9||4||16||25||.161||.284||.204||.489|
|BOS (1 yr)||98||382||360||31||78||9||3||2||29||8||19||53||.217||.256||.275||.531|