SABR

Judge McCredie

This article was written by Brian Campf.

It all started to unravel when they returned from Honolulu. A team of baseball all-stars from the Pacific Coast League had sailed across the blue Pacific for a post-season barnstorming escapade to Hawaii. It was 1914, and the ballplayers were surely enjoying what young men do in the tropics. It's a wonder they ever came home.

Walter McCredie, a 38-year old law school dropout, one-year major leaguer, and manager of the Coast League's Portland Beavers, had good reason to celebrate the island junket. He had signed up a new pitching prospect in Honolulu. McCredie was a superior developer of big league talent. A McCredie acquisition meant something.

The recruit was not a typical busher. He was fluent in Hawaiian, Chinese, and English. Christy Mathewson had personally shown him how to throw his famous fade-away. Ed Walsh gave him tips on pitching the spitball. He had attended a World Series. "A real ball player," said Johnny Kane, a Coast Leaguer who had played against him. The guy was a catch. But so was his color. He was half Chinese and half Hawaiian. Put differently, he wasn't white. His name was Lang Akana.

Players revolted at the news of Akana's signing. They threatened a walkout. McCredie reluctantly said that he would cut Akana loose. "The Coast Leaguers who played at Honolulu on that recent barnstorming trip came back vowing boycott," McCredie said. "I have received a couple of letters from players telling me Akana is as dark as Jack Johnson [the African-American boxer], so I guess I will have to give him a release."

McCredie refused to back down in the end. He vowed to give Akana a chance to earn a spot on the club. "Akana is going to have a hard time breaking in with this prejudice against him," one reporter observed. And indeed, Akana never became a Beaver.

The Akana episode moved McCredie to openly declare his opposition to baseball's unwritten but very real color line. "I don't think the color of the skin ought to be a barrier in baseball. They have Jim Thorpe, an Indian, in the big leagues; there are Cubans on the rosters of the various clubs. Here in the Pacific Coast League we have a Mexican and a Hawaiian, and yet the laws of baseball bar negroes from organized diamonds. If I had my way, the negro would be welcome inside the fold. I would like to have two such ball players as [Bruce] Petway and [John "Pop"] Lloyd of the Chicago Colored Giants, who play out here every Spring. I think Lloyd is another Hans Wagner around shortstop and Petway is one of the greatest catchers in the world."

McCredie pushed the social boundaries of the day by acquiring Akana, though he could not remove them. His call for baseball's integration was as out of step with the times as someone today urging its segregation. These events reflect McCredie's unwavering commitment to his players, the fans, and himself to field the best team possible. This was not about color. This was about winning. This was about baseball. McCredie knew how to win big.

He led his Portland team to PCL pennants in 1906, 1910, 1911, 1913, and 1914. The number of superb players he graduated to the major leagues would be the envy of any manager. This is his story.

Walter Henry McCredie was born in Manchester, Iowa on November 29, 1876. He played town-lot ball as a youngster and was recognized for his pitching. "Loyal McCredie may not be a good enough boy to go to the Olive street school, but he proved yesterday that he was a good enough pitcher to shut out the Bunker Hills to the tune of 8 to 0. His team was the Ida Street Juniors," one early account reported.

He also pitched for the High School baseball nine. A game summary notes that the opposing team, the Athletics, "could do nothing with McCredie" and that "McCredie once more pitched one of his masterful games, allowing the Athletics only two scattered hits and letting only one man walk." Score: High School 2, Athletics 1.

Pitching took a back seat to playing the infield and the outfield as his baseball career progressed. There are historical discrepancies regarding the teams McCredie played for, and when, prior to his joining Portland in 1904. The following likely chronology is based largely on a Sporting News article published at the time of his death. He started with the Des Moines ball club in 1896-97.

There, he was nearly shot in a shoe store shooting that killed the proprietor. "I've been mixed up in several shootings, and I'm mighty leery of 'em now," McCredie said later. "I feel it stands me in hand to get out of the way when there are any bullets flying around loose in the air." He next played for Quincy and Minneapolis (1898).

While with Youngstown in 1899 McCredie broke his right leg sliding into a base, but he recovered and joined Newcastle and Sioux City (1900) and Minneapolis (1901). He then headed West and led the Oakland Clamdiggers to the pennant in 1902, topping the California League with a .319 batting average.

Bill Lange signed McCredie for Ned Hanlon's Brooklyn Dodgers in 1903. His father John was proud of Walter's good fortune. "He got $300 spot cash for signing the contract," the elder McCredie boasted, "and his salary for the season is to be $1,000 for three months' work." He batted .324 in 56 games before Brooklyn traded him to Baltimore of the Eastern League on July 3, 1903. McCredie played 74 games in the outfield for Baltimore, averaging .318 with 18 stolen bases.

Recognizing that baseball careers tend to be short, McCredie enrolled in Drake University's law program with a plan to quit the game once he had his degree. "I find ball playing is a sort of lottery after all," explained McCredie. "You are always getting hurt at it and there is so much uncertainty that I am tired of it. I want to study law and settle down some place and practice. I believe it will be a lot more certain, and there is not the danger attached to it, either." The Washington Post noted in 1903 that McCredie had been "reading law, and will graduate next year."

However, McCredie's legal education was teaching him a valuable lesson that many lawyers secretly know but only admit to themselves while reading the morning's box scores: baseball is a lot more fun than law. With nothing but an uncertain future before him, and probably an unhappy mother behind him, he abandoned his budding legal career to continue playing baseball full time.

McCredie landed a right field job in Portland in 1904 after visiting friends there. Baseball in Portland was in a very bad way when he arrived. The Sporting News declared that the Portland club, "owing to the way it has been run in the past, had become decidedly unpopular."

In 1903, the Portland Browns (as the team was then called) lost 15 of their first 20 games on their way to a last place 95-108 season. Twenty-five players and two managers came and went that year. One bright spot was pitcher Jake Thielman's league-leading 2.12 earned run average. Less impressive was Isaac Butler leading the league in losses with 31. Things got worse in 1904, a year that could have inspired Abbott and Costello to ask, "Who's on first? And second? And third?" The Browns used 37 players, wearing out three managers and two owners along the way. Isaac Butler had another league-leading 31-loss season, and the team finished dead last with a 79-136 record. Worse yet, the team was hemorrhaging money.

Through this darkness McCredie emerged as the lone star of his new team. He was big and handsome, 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds. He batted left, threw right, and was a .300 hitter in 1904. Still, given the precarious state of Portland baseball that year, it could not have come as a complete surprise that in 1904 the team president ordered him to accept a pay cut. McCredie refused and was fined $100.00. Rather than being branded an upstart, the plucky outfielder captured the public's eye. In 1904, The Sporting News lauded Big Mac's playing abilities, his "gentlemanly manner," and called him "one of the most popular ball players that ever wore a Portland uniform."

McCredie's leadership skills were evident from the beginning. His teammate Jack Holland remarked after the 1904 season that Portland's owners "made a big mistake ... in not turning the management over to Walter McCredie, by far the most capable man on the club, and [who] was popular with players and patrons."

So there he was, a smash hit with the players and the fans, stuck on a team that was losing money and losing games. Most people would have run, not walked, to greener outfields. Yet McCredie saw opportunity in this chaos. He and his uncle bought the Portland club at the end of 1904 for $9,000.

Having a successful uncle did not hurt. William Wallace McCredie was born in Montrose, Pennsylvania in 1862. His father, a Union army officer, was killed at Gettysburg. In 1890, he moved to Portland, Oregon, began practicing law in nearby Vancouver, Washington, and went on to serve one term as a prosecuting attorney in Clark County, Washington, hold one term and part of another as a superior court judge in Vancouver, and become a representative for Washington State in the U.S. Congress.

Uncle William also adored baseball. In 1909, the Washington Post described him as a "former professional player" who in his early days "was considered one of the best curve pitchers in the West and was regarded as of major league timber."

The McCredies made Portland baseball a family affair. Bill Rodgers, Portland's second baseman from 1911-14 and 1916-17, explained, "[t]he judge was president; Walter was manager; Hugh McCredie, Walter's first cousin, was business manager; and Alice, the judge's wife, sold the tickets and handled the cash money at the gate. The judge and Walter were absolute owners of the club. It was a 50-50 partnership, one of the best and soundest baseball organizations ever operated."

The judge's first orders of business were to name his nephew Walter as the team's manager and right fielder, and to change the team's name from the dreary "Browns" to the imposing "Giants." They renamed the team again in 1906, switching over from "Giants" to "Beavers."

Fixing the broken-down team was made easier with Judge McCredie sticking to running things off the field while giving Walter carte blanche over what happened on the diamond. Hap Hogan, the Vernon Tigers manager who led teams that challenged McCredie in the standings, called this division of labor a secret of their success.

"Mac runs the club as though he owned it," Hogan said. With Judge McCredie vesting in his nephew the absolute power to hire and fire at his discretion, "[t]he players realize that there is no appeal from his decision in any matter affecting the conduct of the club, and as a result he is able to enforce a high degree of discipline."

Only one player with 200 or more at-bats on Portland's 1904 team returned in 1905: McCredie. He found his new players the old fashioned way. "Spaulding's [sic] guide and Reach's guide have been carefully scanned until the new manager has selected his men," it was reported. "Once he had 'doped' out the players he wanted, he got busy with the mails and telegraph and was soon in communication with them."

Additions in 1905 included future major leaguer Jake Atz at shortstop. Big Larry McLean was behind the plate, all 6- foot-5 and 228 pounds of him (though his girth could not stop the bullet that killed him in a 1921 bar fight). Mike "Swat Kid" Mitchell, another future big leaguer, was in the outfield.

A 1905 season highlight was an unassisted triple play by Portland second baseman Larry Schlafly in a June 21 game against Seattle. Possibly the year's worst point came on July 8 when Seattle's Charlie Shields struck out 19 Portland players in a 4-1 win. But the season low might instead have been on November 8, when only one person came to see Portland play the home team Oakland Commuters. Portland finished 94-110, in fifth place out of six teams, in 1905. Pitcher and future New York Yankees scout Bill Essick lost 30 games, more than anyone else in the PCL.

Not even Walter McCredie could float that sinking ship in just one year. He needed two. In 1906, the team captured McCredie's first pennant with a 115-60 record. The season almost stalled following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, but his uncle personally came to the financial aid of the league to guarantee transportation costs for PCL ball clubs for the full season. The judge even reached into his own bank account to help one failing club. Portland outfielder Mike Mitchell topped the league in batting average, home runs, and total bases. McCredie hit .300 for the second time in his three seasons with Portland. Even the out-of-town press praised Walter. "Mac is a fine fielder, a good batter, knows a ball player when he sees him coming and is a cracking good fellow whose many friends are glad that his ability in handling a team showed itself in the pennant winners of this year," the Los Angeles Times gushed.

The team sagged to a 72-114 last place finish in 1907 with a mostly new roster. McCredie was the only Beaver who hit .300, and he also led the league in triples. The most notable moment of Portland's season came when pitcher Bob Groom no-hit the Los Angeles team in a 1-0 victory. From there, reaching second place with a 95-90 record in 1908 was a marked improvement. Portland players led the league in batting average (Babe Danzig) and wins (Bob Groom). The Beavers made another strong showing in 1909 with a 112-87 record, good enough again for second place. Third baseman Otis Johnson was the league's home run champion, and Alex Carson threw a no hitter.

An informal relationship with the Cleveland Naps that lasted from 1909 through 1915 strengthened the Beavers during this period. Portland received young players from junior clubs with ties to Cleveland, and sent them East ready for prime time. Also starting in 1909, McCredie had the benefit of his own junior team. Judge McCredie backed not only the Class A Beavers, but Portland entries in the Class B Northwestern League (1909, 1911-14). The Class B team was called the "Colts" except in 1911, when it was named the "Pippins." In addition to giving Portlanders local baseball every day in Portland, the farm club provided the Beavers with a stream of talent that included future Hall of Famer Dave Bancroft.

These affiliations with Cleveland and with Portland's Class B junior teams helped push the Beavers to the next level. McCredie led Portland to pennants in 1910 (114-87), 1911 (113-79), 1913 (109-86), and 1914 (113-84). The 1912 season was a disappointing aberration: the team finished 85-100 and in fourth place, the most notable event being an unassisted triple play turned in by first baseman "Roaring" Bill Rapps in a game against Oakland.

Portland's championship teams during this stretch boasted terrific talent. In 1910, McCredie's pitchers tossed 88 consecutive scoreless innings from October 6-16. Pitcher Vean Gregg led the league with 376 strikeouts and 14 shutouts on his way to a 32-18 record. He also threw a no-hitter during which he struck out eight Los Angeles batters in a row. Behind Gregg in 1910 were other outstanding hurlers who eventually matriculated to the majors: the unfortunately named Gene Krapp (29-16), Bill Steen (23-17), and Tom Seaton (17-17). Pitching was the key ingredient for the 1910 Beavers, but so it was for all of the PCL teams that year: San Francisco's team batting average of .226 led the league, with Portland's .218 average placing it third amongst the six Coast League clubs.

The Beavers' offense exploded in 1911 thanks to both a new cork-centered ball and to outfielder Buddy Ryan, who led the PCL in batting average, hits, and home runs. On the mound, Bill Steen was the league leader in wins and its co-leader in winning percentage, and Ferdinand Henkle tossed a sparkling 1-0 no hitter against Sacramento.

Portland players continued to steamroll the league after they recovered from the 1912 debacle. Individual Beavers led the PCL in hits (Bill Rodgers) and strikeouts (Bill James) in 1913, and took home top honors in 1914 in home runs (Ty Lober), doubles and triples (Art Kores), and wins (Irv Higginbotham). Pitchers Johnny Lush and Rube Evans pitched no hitters within four weeks of one another in 1914.

As a tribute to their achievements, the Beavers welcomed the 1912 season with a refurbished stadium. Called Vaughn Street Park, it was originally built in 1901. The facelift that the McCredies gave it reportedly made Vaughn Street the finest ballpark in the minor leagues, notably featuring individual theater seats in the grandstand instead of benches. The McCredie business plan was a winner: make money through ticket sales, give each fan a comfortable seat with leg room, and sell concessions as cheaply as possible, even if the team makes no money from it.

On the diamond, Walter McCredie played right field regularly for Portland until the 1910 season. He was a highly strung player, pacing back and forth during close games like a sentry nervously awaiting the delayed sound of a far off crack. He wore a visible 20-foot pathway that paralleled the fence. The Los Angeles Times joked in 1909 that some fans "think he must have been in jail once and learned how to walk back and forth in a cell."

Hard work was the McCredie way. When a bush league pitcher cautioned him during 1913 spring training, "don't work me too hard at first," McCredie retorted "no danger, I won't have time even to notice you." The busher went home. Even once he had stopped playing regularly after 1909, McCredie would suit up and work out with his team during spring training for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon.

He always thought about how to give his team an edge. McCredie was so innovative that in 1905 he considered hiring a Japanese jiu-jitsu expert to teach his players how to slide into bases without getting hurt. Having broken a leg six years earlier while sliding, he knew firsthand that an injury could jeopardize a promising career. Portland's trainers assisted Big Mac in readying his men for action. The squad was expected to obey the trainer just as they would the manager. Today's players would recognize some of one Beaver trainer's methods ("[n]ever stay in the game if you feel your arm getting sore") and would welcome others ("[i]f you feel soggy and lazy at times through the long season, drink a little ale or good beer at meals").

McCredie kept clubhouse distractions to a minimum. He barred poker playing in 1914 because the bets got big and so did the losses, and with that came hard feelings. "The team that plays poker is not the ball machine which it should be," he said. (What gaming he allowed at a billiard parlor he owned in Portland has been lost to history.)

He treated all of his players alike. Gruff and blunt, McCredie knew just the right balance between criticism and encouragement. One of his pitchers observed in 1914, "McCredie nearly chews my head off sometimes, but I guess I have it coming when he does. The old man [he was 37 then] knows what he is talking about. On the other hand, he is just as quick to speak a word of praise."

McCredie had little praise for umpires, though, and he was not afraid to let them know it. Accounts of his encounters with them read like a rap sheet: McCredie tossed from a 1909 game, telling Umpire McGreevy that he will "get him" and "you will be sorry for this" (fine: $20); McCredie shoving Umpire Finney in 1911 and unleashing "language that would have scared a pirate" (fine: $10); McCredie shoving Umpire Hildebrand in 1911 and being kicked off the grounds by the police (and suspended).

Like many players of his day, McCredie was superstitious. Fearing bad luck from torn bits of paper, he would drop to his hands and knees to pick up tiny scraps that a player had dropped in the dugout. He hated the sight of blood so much that he avoided going onto the field to check on a bleeding, spiked player. He also had a terrible fear of snakes, something pitcher Irv Higginbotham loved to exploit by sneaking up on him and, with a shriek, throwing a harmless snake at McCredie's feet.

McCredie had a tremendous ability to turn raw recruits into major leaguers. "Unquestionably the greatest developer of talent in the minor leagues," is how the Los Angeles Times described him in 1915. "His record in this respect is unparalleled. In the past nine years he has contributed something like thirty ball players to the majors who have made good, an average of slightly better than three a year."

A list of some of them reads like a baseball university's roll call of successful alumni. They include Hall of Famers Dave Bancroft, Harry Heilmann, and Stan Coveleski, and also Roger Peckinpaugh, Carl Mays, Ken Williams, Babe Pinelli, Allen Sothoron, Jack Graney, Vean Gregg, Ivan Olson, and Mike Mitchell. This Beavers fraternity led to some reunion match-ups. In a 1912 game between Cleveland and Washington, ex-Beavers Vean Gregg, Buddy Ryan, Roger Peckinpaugh, and Ivy Olson helped Cleveland defeat ex-Portland pitcher Bob Groom.

With the McCredies' successes came other opportunities. Hall of Famer Joe Tinker, who had led the Portland Webfooters to a 1901 Pacific Northwest League pennant, authorized an offer to buy the Beavers in 1912, but it went nowhere. Judge McCredie turned down a chance in 1914 to obtain a controlling interest in the St. Louis Browns. Walter even rejected an offer to manage the Cleveland Naps in 1915, though that same year the Los Angeles Times called him "a major league manager in every sense of the word."

The arc of Walter's career in the game peaked in 1914. He would never have another winning season as a manager. Two events coincided with this downturn. One was the demise of the Class B Portland Colts in 1914, when it became too expensive for Judge McCredie to support both teams. The other was the end of the player arrangement with Cleveland after 1915, when financial difficulties forced out Cleveland owner Charlie Somers, a personal friend of Walter's. Portland finished 78-116 and in last place in 1915.

The Beavers ended the 1916 season second to last in the PCL with a 93-98 mark. A bright spot was Allen Sothoron's league-leading 30 wins, but the rest of Portland's pitching staff struggled that year. Just three weeks into the 1916 season, beneath the blunt headline "Beaver Fans Getting Mad," one writer accurately described the team's hurlers as being "divided between the uncertain and the certainly ineffective."

The losses that followed only hardened McCredie's resolve. During one 1916 match, he watched his 24-year old pitcher, Herb "Moke" Kelly, whom the Los Angeles Times described as having "nothing but a roundhouse curve and an ambition to eat supper," let a 3-0 lead over the home team Vernon Tigers evaporate into a 10-3 deficit. With five runs across the plate for Vernon in the eighth inning, two outs, and no end in sight, McCredie stomped out to the pitching rubber to put pitcher Kelly out of his misery, and to give his Portland team a lesson in leadership by example. Just six weeks shy of his fortieth birthday, McCredie pitched the last out of the inning himself, getting the Vernon batter to pop up for the final out of the inning. Even the Vernon crowd applauded.

In 1917, Portland finished a disappointing 98-102 and in fourth place. Outfielder Ken Williams, just around the corner from his outstanding major league career, led the PCL in home runs. World War I travel problems led to a shortened Pacific Coast League season and no PCL baseball in Portland in 1918, though the Portland Buckaroos of the Pacific Coast International League temporarily filled the void. McCredie managed Salt Lake that year. Still, "his heart is with Portland," Judge McCredie said.

Walter and his Beavers returned to Portland the next season, but he never regained his magic touch. The club's record dropped to 78-96 in 1919 (second to last), 81-103 in 1920 (last), and 51-134 in 1921 (last, and 55-1/2 games out of first place). When Portland outfielder Hazen Paton came to after knocking himself out sliding into second base in 1921, he looked up at McCredie and said, "All I can see is stars." McCredie replied, "Not on this ball club."

Through it all, Judge McCredie stuck loyally by his nephew. However, Portland fans grew tired of losing. The McCredies had spoiled them with pennants in earlier years, but the Beavers had not finished over .500 since 1914. On the investment side, it is a safe bet that the McCredies were no longer enjoying the profits of their winning seasons. In 1912, for example, when Portland did not win the pennant, the season's profits were nearly half of what they had been in their 1911 championship year.

The inevitable finally came in July 1921, when Judge McCredie announced, "new blood, not only in the club, but in management would be gratifying to many Portland fans." The McCredies sold the Beavers. Big Mac stepped aside after the season ended. Even so, Portland would not win another Coast League pennant until 1932.

Walter McCredie still had his own road ahead of him. He briefly managed the Seattle Indians in 1922 to a 34-48 record. There, he was reunited with ex-Beaver Vean Gregg, who had come back down to the minors. McCredie then became a scout for the Detroit Tigers. He declined an offer to take the reins of the Coast League's Vernon Tigers in 1925. The Mission Bears lured him back to the PCL for a short time in 1926, and McCredie led them to a 16-19 mark. In spring 1927, he coached the Hollywood Stars before returning to his scouting job with the Detroit Tigers.

McCredie eventually left his post with the Detroit Tigers, retired from baseball in 1931, and moved back to Portland. In Fall 1933, as if the clock were turned back to 1904, McCredie was offered, and accepted, the job of managing the 1934 Portland squad. "The Portland Beavers have always been my favorite team," he said upon accepting the position. His tenure was to be a short one. Although he was just 57 years old, his health was bad and getting worse. Rheumatism hobbled him and kept him from the ballpark. The team's poor showing had made the once invincible McCredie unpopular with a new generation of Portland fans. By late April 1934, he had to be replaced as Portland's manager.

McCredie would only live for another three months. Seeing his final days approaching, the Portland club arranged for former Beavers Irv Higginbotham, Gus Fisher, Vean Gregg, Carl Mays, and Lyle Bigbee to take the home field with members of the current Beavers team in a benefit game in McCredie's honor against Sacramento. Sadly, the benefit turned into a memorial. Walter McCredie died on July 29, 1934, on the eve of the game that was to be played in his honor. He picked his pallbearers (players from the 1934 Portland team) and honorary pallbearers (players from his earlier Beavers clubs) while on his deathbed.

Baseball was on his mind to the last. "Toward the end his mind wandered and he imagined that he was playing again. " 'Hit it out!' they heard him say once, and 'Slide!' " the Portland Oregonian reported. "And at the very last, his final words, just a few minutes before he ceased to breath[e], 'Let the game go on.' "

So it did, with Portland winning 10-7 before only 3,200 fans. As McCredie had requested, all the proceeds went to his widow Etta. The final chapter on the McCredie era closed when Judge McCredie died the following year on May 11, 1935, at age 73. Speaking at a baseball banquet a year before he died, Walter McCredie wrote his own epitaph. He simply stated, "Baseball is my life."

Note

A version of this article originally appeared in the 2006 SABR publication Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, Mark Armour (editor), photos from the David Eskenazi Collection.

Sources

In preparing this article, the author relied on many issues of the Portland Oregonian, newspapers accessed through ProQuest, especially the Los Angeles Times, and a scrapbook of articles pertaining to McCredie.

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