SABR

Joe Dugan

This article was written by Joseph Wancho.

The 1923 World Series was tied at two games apiece as the venue moved to Yankee Stadium. The New York Giants were attempting to make it three world championships in a row, the first two at the expense of their neighbors from the Bronx.

Perhaps a change of scenery was the medicine the New York Yankees needed. The Yankees, former tenants of the Giants at the Polo Grounds, had just completed their first season at their new digs at Yankee Stadium. The magnificent structure boasted a capacity of 60,000, and if other stadiums were given the moniker of green cathedrals, then certainly Yankee Stadium was St. Peter’s Basilica by comparison.

The anticipation for the Yankees rooters was over the top, literally. The stadium was filled to capacity for Game Five of the series with thousands being turned away when the last ticket was sold one hour before the first pitch. Estimates ranged from 35,000 to 50,000 fans being shut out of witnessing the live action.

Among those who did not have tickets to the ballgame were Mr. and Mrs. John Dugan, parents of Yankees third baseman Joe Dugan, and one of Joe’s uncles. The three did not have tickets, deciding at the last moment to make the trek from New Haven, Connecticut. But not to fear, New York business manager Ed Barrow found the threesome seats in Section 13, to the extreme left of the press level in the mezzanine.

The Dugan clan cheered on their son vociferously. “Knock him out of the box, the old scalawag,”i shouted Mr. Dugan when Joe came to the plate in the second inning. Young Dugan obliged, driving Giants pitcher Jack Bentley’s offering on a line to center field. The ball shot past Casey Stengel, and Dugan motored around the bases for an inside-the-park home run. Joe went 4-for-5 on the day, as the Yankees won the ballgame 8-1 and took a three-games-to-two lead in the Series.

The Yankees wrapped up the world championship the next day at the Polo Grounds. After the game, the Yankees beat writers were trying to bait Giants manager John McGraw into admitting that the Yankees had the better talent of the two teams. Who would he rather have on his team, Babe Ruth or Frankie Frisch? I’ll take Frisch, McGraw answered. Is Babe Ruth a great player? No, he is a great hitter, replied McGraw. And on it went. When one reporter asked about Dugan, McGraw turned to the reporter and said, “Now young man, you have named a great ball player.”ii The Giants skipper knew all too well about Dugan’s play, and what an obstacle he had been to his team’s chances of winning the series.

Joseph Anthony Dugan was born May 12, 1897, in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania. He was one of ten children (seven brothers, two sisters) born to Mr. and Mrs. John Dugan. The Dugans left the Keystone State when Joe was 5, moving to Winsted, Connecticut. It was in Connecticut that Joe matured into a fine ballplayer, making a name for himself at Hillhouse High School in New Haven. Word spread to Philadelphia of the young player, and Athletics manager Connie Mack sent Ira Thomas, a catcher on the Athletics, to take a look at the high school junior in 1915. Thomas sent back glowing reports on Dugan.

Although there are some variations to the story, Dugan says that one night as his family settled down to dinner, the doorbell rang, and none other than Mack himself was at the door, wanting to talk to Joe and his parents. “Mr. Dugan, I hear your boy is quite a ballplayer,” began Mack. “I’ve got a train to catch to Philadelphia and I’ll make it brief.” iiiThen Mack reached into his pocket and laid out five $100 bills on the table in front of John Dugan. “I want you to promise me,” said Mack, “when Joseph comes of age and decides to go into organized baseball, you’ll let him come to the Philadelphia Athletics.”iv

Joe’s father looked at the cash, and then at his family. It might as well have been a million dollars to Dugan, as he could hardly control himself. “For five hundred dollars you can take the whole family,”v blurted John Dugan.

After graduating from high school, Dugan enrolled at the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. After just one year playing baseball for the Crusaders, he gained the reputation as a splendid fielder who could hit some. There were as many as a half-dozen teams bidding for his services. But Dugan kept his word to Mack, joining the Athletics for the 1917 season.

He bypassed the minor leagues, going straight to the majors. He debuted on July 5, playing second base in the first game of a doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox. Mack stationed Dugan at second or shortstop the first three years he was in the league. Dugan preferred the keystone position over making the long throw from short. Although known for his slick fielding in college, Dugan committed 92 errors while playing shortstop his first three years in the league. He struggled at the plate as well. In 1918, Dugan posted the lowest batting average (.195) and the lowest on-base percentage (.230) in the league. His .258 slugging percentage was second lowest only to A’s teammate Charlie Jamieson (.238).

A disturbing trend began in 1918 that caused Mack and Dugan much grief. In a game on June 28, the Athletics were thrashed at home, 10-2, at the hands of the Yankees. Dugan took the collar at the plate, going 0-for-4, and striking out twice with men on base, once with the bags juiced. The Athletics fans at Shibe Park let him hear their displeasure about his performance. The next day, Dugan did not show for the game. Thus began a trend during Dugan’s early career, when he would bail on the team when the road became rocky. He would leave for mysterious illnesses that no one else seemed to know about. He would go home to visit family and friends. He would look into joining any number of industrial leagues. But he always returned, and Mack always took Joe back. His teammates resented not only that, but Dugan’s lackluster effort on the diamond. Fans showed their disdain for Dugan at every possible moment, showering him with catcalls and insults during ballgames.

Sportswriter Tiny Maxwell of the Philadelphia Public Ledger gave Dugan the nickname “Jumping Joe” for his frequent, unapproved furloughs from the team.

After the 1919 season, Dugan threatened to quit baseball if Connie Mack did not trade him. “I guess he’ll have to quit,”vi replied Mack. This would become a tired theme with Dugan, repeatedly asking to be traded. Personally he liked Connie Mack very much, but on the whole he would rather not be in Philadelphia.

Mack inserted Jimmy Dykes at second base in 1920, moving Dugan to the hot corner. Dugan blossomed at the plate in 1920, hitting a career-high .322. He tallied five hits against Detroit on August 31 in a game that ended in an 8-8 tie. However, more impressive was smashing three doubles in back-to-back games against Boston on September 24 and 25. He smacked his career high in home runs with 10 and hit .295 in 1921. It was the only season he reached double digits in homers. His defense improved, too, as he was able to focus on one position. But he still made waves during the season about not playing in Philadelphia. “You can tell my friends that I am through with Connie Mack and his Athletics for all time. I had tired of playing for a consistent loser and told Mack several times that unless he sold or traded me within a reasonable time that I would forget about baseball and find some other way of making a living.”vii Of course, he never did completely quit the game.

At the end of the 1921 season Mack had reached the end of the rope with Dugan. He realized that Dugan, although talented, would have a hard go of it in Philadelphia. “I’ve never found it paid to drive a player,” Mack told the Associated Press, “no matter how unruly he might be. He will not do his best. Players require different types of handling. Some need persuasion, some need coaxing. I always try to study each man and suit my actions or words to what I think he requires to produce his best.”viii The Sporting News commented that Mack stood for more breaches of loyalty than any other manager in the country would have done.

After lengthy discussions between Mack, Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith and Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, a three-team swap was engineered on January 10, 1922. Dugan was sent to the Senators for Bing Miller and pitcher Jose Acosta. Griffith then sent Dugan to Boston for shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh.

The ink was not even dry on the trades when it was reported that Dugan was telling family and friends in New Haven that he would soon be suiting up for the Yankees. Such, though, was not the case.

Dugan returned to Shibe Park on April 20, 1922, hearing the jeers and taunts of “I want to go home”ix from the Athletics faithful. He hit a home run in a 15-4 Red Sox win. He hit another homer the next day in a 7-1 Bosox victory. He was off to a strong start for Boston, but the change of uniform was not the only adjustment “Jumping Joe” made in 1922. He also married the former Dorothy Bisque of Detroit.

Dugan played well, splitting his time between third base and shortstop, a position he did not seem to mind playing in Boston. He hit .287 with 22 doubles in 84 games. Sure enough, Dugan was traded to the Yankees, along with Elmer Smith, on July 23, 1922. Boston received Lefty O’Doul as a player to be named later, and a handful of mediocre talent. Frazee also received $50,000. Joe’s jumping days were over. The deal was regarded as a heist for the Yankees by Cleveland Indians manager Tris Speaker. Chicago White Sox skipper Kid Gleason complained that he was told Dugan was not available when he had made his own inquiry. American League President Ban Johnson said, “Deals of this sort in midseason are regrettable and must be discouraged and legislated against.”x Legislation was passed in 1924 prohibiting intraleague trading.

The real losers as a result of the deal were the St. Louis Browns. They had a slim 1½-game lead over the Yankees at the time of the deal. Dugan paid immediate dividends, as he replaced Mike McNally at third base. He smacked a three-run homer, and stroked two doubles in a 6-2 victory over the White Sox on July 29. Dugan hit .286 for the Yankees and committed only six errors. The Yankees built a 4½-game lead over the Browns in late September, then weathered a 1-4 record in the final week of the season to win the pennant by one game.

The Yankees, who were tenants of the Giants at the Polo Grounds, were swept by their landlords in four games. The curious part of this series was Game Two being called at 4:43 p.m., with the score tied 3-3 after ten innings. The rules of the day prohibited a replay. The game was played for naught. “It was crazy,” said Dugan. “The people were milling around, yelling. They were mad at everybody. They could have played another inning or two anyway. It was broad daylight.”xi

The Yankees moved to the Bronx the next year and won the pennant by 16 games. Dugan led all third baseman in fielding with a .974 average. He hit .280 in the World Series, and fielded every chance that came his way in all six games.

Dugan was having another fine game on September 26, 1924, when misfortune ensued. “Jumping Joe” was 2-for-3 at the plate when he lined a single to right field. Wally Pipp sent a single to center that Al Simmons did not field cleanly. Dugan saw the bobble and galloped for third, beating the throw with a hook slide to the bag. Although he was safe, Dugan had sprained his left knee, and could not put any weight on the leg. He was helped to the dugout, his season over with only one game to play. The 7-1 victory pulled New York to within a game of Washington. But on the final day, a 4-3 loss at Philadelphia, coupled with a Senators win over Boston, clinched the flag for Bucky Harris’ crew.

Successful surgery was performed on Dugan’s left knee, and he vowed to return to the team at full tilt. But the reality was his “trick” knee would give him trouble for the rest of his career.

The Yankees returned to the World Series in 1926. Lou Gehrig was in his second year as a starter at first base. Tony Lazzeri and Mark Koenig were both rookies, playing second base and shortstop, respectively. The Yankees had one of the best infields in the major leagues. Nobody came close to Ruth in home runs (47), RBI (153) or walks (144). Dugan missed playing time due to recurring pain in his knee and a split finger he injured on a fielding play.

He still made the plays, as described in the New York Times on April 30 in a game against Washington. “Joseph Dugan, who is running wild, clubbed two singles and a two-bagger. Dugan is also no wooden Indian around third. He ran over to his left and broke down Harris’ hot grounder, then whizzed a throw to Gehrig that nailed the Senator as he slid madly into the bag.”xii

The Yankees won the pennant by three games over Cleveland and their opponent in the Fall Classic was the St. Louis Cardinals. The Yankees could not figure out Grover Cleveland Alexander or Jesse Haines, as each pitcher posted a 2-0 record. Between them, they surrendered a mere five earned runs in four starts. The Yankees held a 3-2 series lead, when Alexander won Game Six, 10-2. Game Seven saw Alexander relieve Haines in the seventh inning, striking out Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded and two outs, then pitch two more innings to pick up the save of a tight 3-2 win for the Redbirds. New York stranded 10 runners in the decisive game.

Like many athletes, Dugan had superstitions. One of them was that he would never throw the baseball back to the pitcher, not even in infield practice. He would either toss the ball to one of the other infielders or the catcher to toss back to the mound. Oftentimes, his teammates would turn their back on Joe, forcing him to walk the ball to the hill himself, and place the ball in the pitcher’s glove.

Over the next two years, the team with the “Murderers Row” lineup began to live up to their billing. They dominated the American League in 1927 and held off the Athletics to win their third straight pennant in 1928. In the World Series, they swept both of their opponents from the senior circuit: Pittsburgh in 1927 and St. Louis in 1928.

Dugan had his view of the lineup that many view as the most dominating in the history of major league baseball. “It’s always the same. Combs walks. Koenig singles. Ruth hits one out of the park. Gehrig doubles. Lazzeri triples. Then Dugan goes down on the dirt on his can,”xiii opined Joe.

His knee constantly gave him trouble, and the number of games he played in declined each year. But he could still make the plays at third base, as was the case on a bunt attempt by the Pirates Hal Rhyne in the seventh inning of Game 3 of the 1927 World Series. “As (Rhyne) choked up on the bat, Dugan leaped into action. It was a perfect bunt. The ball rolled close to the foul line and obviously it would remain in fair territory. At a full gallop, Dugan stopped and snatched the ball. At this point he was flying through the air, horizontally. Without looking and with the continuation of the same motion used in picking up the ball, he fired under his body and then sprawled in the dirt base path. The runner was out by a clear margin,”xiv wrote Ed Pollock in the Philadelphia Bulletin.

Dugan battled more knee problems in 1928, as well as a sore right elbow from getting hit that May 12 by a pitch from the Tigers’ Ownie Carroll. He appeared in 94 games, and Gene Robertson proved to be an adequate replacement when “Jumping Joe” had to sit out. He did enjoy the only multi-homer game of his career, when he went deep twice against the Athletics on May 25.

Dugan asked for his release from the Yankees. General Manager Ed Barrow, aware that Dugan might sign on with another club in the American League, instead sold him to the Boston Braves. Dugan was upset at the move, feeling he was betrayed by the Yankees. He threatened not to report, but he did and played one year. He sat out 1930, and tried to make a comeback with the Detroit Tigers in 1931. But after a handful of games, he called it quits for good.

In retirement, Dugan ran a beer distributorship and also owned a tavern in New York. He returned to the New England area to run a baseball school, and worked as a scout for the Red Sox from 1955 to 1966.

In the final years of his life, Dugan relocated to Norwood, Massachusetts. He passed away as the result of pneumonia and a stroke on July 7, 1982.

Yankees manager Miller Huggins thought the world of his third baseman, never underestimating his contributions to five pennant-winning teams. “In the list of present day players Joe Dugan is first, second and third. He can run, catch, hit and throw,” said the skipper. “Outside of that he is practically useless on my ball club.” xv

The New York World agreed with Hug when the following was printed on June 24, 1923.

“Where Haney misses, Dugan spears ’em,
Where Lutzke fumbles, Dugan smears ’em.
Where Kamm falls down, and lets them go,
They’re in the mitt of Jumping Joe.”xvi

 

Sources

http://www.baseballlibrary.com/homepage/

http://www.baseball-reference.com/

http://www.retrosheet.org/

http://sabr.org/

New York Times

The Sporting News

Levitt, Daniel R. Ed Barrow: The Bulldog Who Built The Yankees’ First Dynasty. University of Nebraska Press, 2008.

 

Notes

i “Pa, Ma and Uncle Make it Dugan Day.” New York Times. October 15, 1923. 11

ii John Kieran, “Sports of the Times.” New York Times. September 29, 1927. 23.

iii Norman L. Macht, Connie Mack: The Turbulent and Triumphant Years (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012) 115-116.

iv Ibid

v Ibid

vi Macht, 192.

vii “Dugan Says He’s Through.” New York Times. July 31, 1921

viii Macht, 280.

ix Marty Appel, Pinstripe Empire (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012) 120.

x “Ban Johnson Calls Deal ‘Regrettable.’” New York Times. July 25, 1922. 24.

xi Robert Weintraub, The House That Ruth Built (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011) 143.

xii “Pickups and Putouts.” New York Times. April 30, 1926. 12.

xiii Harvey Frommer, Five O’Clock Lightning (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008) 73.

xiv Appel, 157.

xv Leo Trachtenberg, The Wonder Team (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Press, 1995) 85.

xvi Ibid

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