This article was published in the Spring 2012 Baseball Research Journal
Baseball history is littered with heroic performances by great teams that ran rampshod over their competition, as well as teams that overachieved. Less remembered are the underachievers— teams that, at least on paper, appeared great, but failed to achieve their full potential.
Baseball history is littered with heroic performances by great teams that ran rampshod over their competition, as well as teams that overachieved. Less remembered are the underachievers— teams that, at least on paper, appeared great, but failed to achieve their full potential.
The 1906 Cleveland Naps: Leaders on paper, third place in the standings
One of the classic underachieving teams is the 1906 Cleveland Naps, who fielded a hard-hitting lineup, a great pitching staff, and fielders with a strong defensive efficiency rating.
In 1906, the Forest City squad led the American League in virtually every important batting category. Their pitching staff led the AL with a minuscule 2.09 ERA. On defense, the Naps led the league in fielding, committing 26 fewer errors than the White Sox, while reeling off a league-leading 111 double plays.[fn]Bill James, John Dewan, Neil Munro, and Don Zminda, editors, Stats All-Time Major League Sourcebook, Stats Inc., 1998.[/fn] An AL all-star team announced during the World Series saw six of the 14 players being from the Forest City.[fn]Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 13, 1906.[/fn]
On paper, without looking at the final standings, one would guess that the Naps ran away with the AL crown. And where did they finish? Third place, five games behind the White Sox, the “Hitless Wonders” who went on to win the World Series in six games against the Chicago Cubs, who set a single-season record with 116 wins in 154 games, a record that still stands. The question is, particularly after considering their statistics, how did the Naps fail to capture the 1906 AL pennant or even finish in second place?
Let’s examine this puzzling team more closely and see how they managed such an underachievement.
Naps were an AL offensive powerhouse in 1906
The team, named after their player-manager, Hall-of- Fame second baseman Napoleon Lajoie, was easily the best offensive team in the AL in 1906. They led the league in batting average, total base hits, runs scored, on-base percentage, doubles, total bases, slugging percentage and OPS. AL champion Chicago had an OPS of .588 compared to Cleveland’s .682.[fn]James, 1998, op. cit.[/fn]
In their 89 wins, the Naps outscored their opponents 503–168. That breaks down to 5.65 runs per game for the Naps, a remarkable total at the height of the Deadball Era when runs were hard to manufacture. In the Naps’ 89 wins, their opponents averaged only 1.89 runs, almost four runs a game fewer than the Clevelanders.
In blowout games (games where they scored five or more runs) the Naps were 31–7. They were shut out only eight times. The rest of the AL was shut out an average of 19 times.[fn]www.Baseball-Reference.com.[/fn]
A hard-hitting offense
Cleveland’s .279 team batting average was 30 points higher than the league average (.249) and 13 points better than the New York Highlanders (.266), who ranked second in American League batting. The Naps also outhit the league champions, the White Sox, by 49 points. Individually, the Naps were led by Hall-of-Famers Nap Lajoie and outfielder Elmer Flick, both of whom had standout seasons. The pair were the top offensive duo in the AL.
Lajoie’s .355 batting average was only three points behind league leader George Stone (.358) of the St. Louis Browns. Lajoie led the league in doubles with 48. He was second to Stone in on base percentage (.392), total bases (280), slugging percentage (.465), and OPS (.857). Lajoie was second in RBIs with 91, five fewer than the Philadelphia A’s hard-hitting Harry Davis.
Elmer Flick played in 157 games, led the league in runs scored (98) and triples (22), was tied for the league lead in stolen bases (39), was third in hits (194), doubles (34), total bases (275), and fourth in on base percentage (.372), slugging (.441), and OPS (.813).[fn]James, 1998, op. cit.[/fn]
The Naps’ offensive might was not limited to Lajoie and Flick. Part-time first baseman Claude Rossman hit .308. The catching duo of Harry Bemis (.276) and Jay “Nig” Clarke (.358) hit a combined .307. Clarke, although limited due to a broken finger, had an OPS of .890. Right fielder Bunk Congalton hit .320, OPS .757. Shortstop Terry “Cotton” Turner hit .291, OPS .710. Center fielder Harry “Deerfoot” Bay and third baseman Bill Bradley each hit .275. Infielder George Stovall, who filled in at a variety of positions, hit a solid .273. George Davis of Chicago, to compare offenses, had a team best OPS of .694.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
Of course, not all of the hitters were as fortunate at the plate; the primary backups were:
- Jim Jackson, OF, .214 avg, .549 OPS
- Jap Barbeau, 3B, .194 avg., .536 OPS
- Ben Caffyn, OF, .194 avg., .524 OPS
- Fritz Buelow, C, .163 avg., .436 OPS
Overall, the Naps easily fielded the league’s most productive offense. So where was the problem?
Let’s examine the pitching for clues.
Naps pitching staff led the league in key categories
Collectively, the Naps pitching staff was as potent as their offense. The Naps league-leading 2.09 ERA was slightly better than the pennant-winning White Sox (2.13) and their FIPS ERA was fifth in the league. The staff led the league in complete games (133) and their 27 shutout wins were second in the AL, five behind the White Sox. Cleveland’s pitching staff did allow 22 more runs (482) than the White Sox, who permitted 460 tallies. The staff also was second in the league in opponents batting average, with a .233 OAVG, behind St Louis at .230. The Naps also had the third best opponents on base percentage at .290, behind Chicago .281 and St Louis .284.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
The Naps pitchers allowed only 7.6 hits per game, almost identical to the Browns’ 7.5 hits per game. Cleveland pitching issued 365 total bases on balls, 110 more than the White Sox. But their total was still the fifth lowest walks allowed in the AL.
The Cleveland staff threw the most innings in the league (1,413), 31 more innings than the hapless Boston Americans’ staff, who threw 1,382 innings. They uncorked the fewest wild pitches (23) in the league.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
Anchoring the pitching staff was Hall of Famer Addie Joss, who went 21–9 with a 1.72 ERA. Joss was followed in the rotation by the Naps only lefty-handed pitcher Otto Hess (20-17, 1.83), Bob Rhoads (22–10, 1.80) and Bill Bernhard (16–15, 2.54). Happy Townsend (3–7, 2.91) was a spot starter and Harry Eells (4–5, 2.61) served as a spot starter and made six relief appearances.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
Clearly, the Naps pitching was a strength. Was it the fielding that was to blame?
Fielding was not the culprit
Cleveland’s fielding was statistically the best in the American League. Nap fielders committed the fewest errors (217) and their .967 fielding percentage was tops in the AL. Their 111 double plays led the league, turning 25 more than the next best team. Their total chances (6,626), was comparable to league-leading Chicago (6,632).[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
Did the team struggle in any part of the season?
They had two good runs; May and down the stretch in September. But their record in August starts to show a problem.
The Naps reached first place in the league on June 15 and hovered mostly in first or second place until July 7 when a two-game losing streak dropped them to third place. Cleveland again reached second place on July 19, before dropping back to third. They would reside in either third or fourth place the rest of the season. The July 19 date, as it turns out, proved to be a key moment in the Naps’ fortunes in 1906.
Did the Naps win a lot of blowout games but lose the close-scoring games?
Cleveland was a high-scoring team. They outscored their opponents by 3.76 runs in their victories. When the Naps lost, the losses were tighter. They scored 150 runs while losing, while their opponents tallied 303 runs. That breaks down to an average of 2.34 runs in losses while allowing 4.73 runs, a differential of 2.39 runs, considerably closer than the differential in their 89 wins. This does not completely answer the question as to whether or not they won big and lost close.
Inability to beat the top teams was the Naps’ Achilles heel
The Naps finished third behind the White Sox and the Highlanders. Between the White Sox, the Highlanders and the Naps, Cleveland had the worst record against the five teams that finished below them in the standings. Each team’s record against the fourth-place through last-place teams:
That narrows it down to head-to-head play between the Naps, Chicago, and New York. As it turns out, the Naps’ failure to win against the teams they had to beat was their undoing. While their failure to beat the top two teams came by only a narrow margin, it was enough to keep them out of first place. The Naps went 10–12 against the first-place White Sox and 10–11 against the second-place Highlanders. What’s interesting is that the Naps outscored the ChiSox in those 22 games, 107 to 89. Chicago won each of their season series against six other teams in the AL, with the exception of Detroit, with whom they split with 11 wins apiece.[fn]www.Baseball-Reference.com.[/fn]
The White Sox and Highlanders both finished with 151 decisions and the Naps had 153, but the schedule differential did not make any difference in the final outcome. The Naps lost six more games than their rivals and, had the White Sox and Highlanders played out their schedules, the Naps still would have been short of the flag.
Did injuries affect the team’s performance?
Two season-ending injuries affected the Naps and diminished their chances for a pennant.
Center fielder Harry Bay suffered a split finger while batting on June 13 and missed the following two weeks. The team went 8–6 in his absence. Bay was an explosive base runner, a valuable hitter, and solid defensive outfielder. The Naps were in either first or second place while Bay missed the two weeks but once he returned, he was not as effective. Bay was hitting .320 when injured. Usually the number two hitter behind Flick, when returning from the injury, Bay struggled, and the Naps went 11–8 through July 18. That would be the last day that Bay played that season. He would race in for a short pop fly and pull up to avoid colliding with shortstop Turner and wrench his knee.[fn]Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 20, 1906.[/fn]
July 19 was the date of an even more damaging injury. During the first five years of the American League’s existence, Bill Bradley was considered one of the better all-around third basemen in baseball, although not as good as Jimmy Collins, generally considered the premier third baseman in baseball at that time. Bradley was solid on defense and was a looming threat at the plate. Four seasons earlier, Bradley had a slugging percentage of .515, a remarkable figure during an era where few players slugged over .400.
On July 19, Bradley was hit by a pitch on the right wrist by Highlander Bill Hogg. Bradley suffered a fracture that knocked him out of action for the rest of the season. The Cleveland Plain Dealer sub-head the next day read, “Bradley’s Injury Is Likely To Cost Cleveland The Pennant.”[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
Did the loss of Bradley and Bay have that much impact?
On July 19, Cleveland had a record of 48–32, a .600 winning percentage. The rest of the season they went 41–32 for a .562 winning percentage. The team was still winning, but not at the same rate. Chicago finished with a percentage of .616 while New York ended up with a .596 percentage.
Three players got the bulk of the playing time once Bay and Bradley went down. Jap Barbeau took over at third base until mid-September when Stovall was moved from a platoon role at first base to third. Ben Caffyn and Jim Jackson got the playing time in the outfield for Bay. Bay and Flick, when batting one and two, had each reached base 80 times in the first 44 games of the season, proving that they were effective at table setting.
Prior to the two stars leaving the lineup, the Naps averaged 4.49 runs scored per game while giving up 3.24. The team’s offense lost .56 runs per game after losing Bay and Bradley. The offensive decline clearly illustrates that the injuries were detrimental.
In an odd turn, while both Bay and Bradley were known as excellent defenders, the team actually
improved on their runs allowed average once they were gone. The Naps allowed 2.87 runs per game after July 19, an improvement of .37 runs per game.
Terry Turner also missed a week in late July with a dislocated thumb, which forced Lajoie to play short with Flick moving to second base. With Bay gone and Flick in the infield, Otto Hess and Addie Joss ended up playing outfield. Hess, who hit .201 in 1906, even batted cleanup one game. At one point in August, the Naps had just 14 players in uniform, nine position players and five pitchers. Catchers Fritz Buelow and Nig Clarke each missed time with split fingers and Harry Bemis had a muscle tear.
The loss of Bradley hurt the most. Lajoie would move himself from second to third and play George Stovall at second. Jap Barbeau was later inserted at third base and played 32 games from the middle of July to mid-September. Barbeau hit just .194 on the season and had an abysmal fielding percentage of .830 at third base. Stovall would ultimately take over at third on September 13. With Barbeau at third, the Naps went 15–17. Lajoie played 14 games at third during August and the team went 7–7. Once Stovall was put at third, the Naps went 20–8, a .714 winning percentage.
You can’t however say injuries were the only reason for the team’s problems. The White Sox had injury problems all season and only one player appeared in 150 or more games. New York had just two players who played 150+ games, the same as Cleveland.
Was the pitching staff hurt by any injuries?
The Naps lost ace Addie Joss for almost a month. Joss came down with a sore shoulder after losing a game to Cy Young on July 24. Joss also played center field on the 26th so you have to wonder if that added to his arm problems.
Joss started just two games in the month of August. He was effective in one of those starts, throwing a shutout against eighth-place Boston. The other game was against Washington, the AL seventh-place team. The Washington game was a win, but it was a 9–8 nailbiter. Joss was pulled for a pinch-hitter after three innings. Newspaper reports said “his smoke was gone.” The fact that he missed several weeks after this may be telling. Cleveland went 9–14 in games not started by Joss in August.
Otto Hess was chosen to pick up some of the games Joss missed. Hess started seven times in the 26 August games but the team was just 2–5 in his starts. Bill Bernhard and Bob Rhoades each started another six games that month. The Naps went 2–4 in the Bernhard games and 2–3 with one tie in the Rhoades starts. Those three pitchers started 19 games in August. The extra work seems to have hurt their performance.
The Naps had a chance to gain some ground in August, playing 13 of the 26 games against some of the weaker AL teams. They ended up dropping five of nine to Philadelphia, splitting six games with Boston, beating up on Washington by winning five of seven, and losing all four games they played against New York and Chicago. Clearly the injuries were costly to the team. And Joss’s injury appeared to put extra stress on the other starters. August was the only month where the Naps had a losing record.
Was Napoleon Lajoie a good manager?
During the 1908 season, the Cleveland writer for The Sporting News posed the question: how many pennants would Cleveland have won if Fielder Jones had managed the team instead of Napoleon Lajoie?[fn]The Sporting News, September 17, 1908.[/fn] During the 1906 season, the Cleveland press frequently talked about Jones’s success with the White Sox.
Napoleon Lajoie was one of baseball’s all-time great hitters. He hit .426 in 1901 and led the league in batting five times. He was one of the initial inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame. But he was a reluctant manager.
During this era, Branch Rickey said there were two types of player-managers. One was the most powerful, physical man on the team, one who could control the team by brute strength. Frank Chance was of this mold. Nicknamed Husk, Chance was a golden gloves boxer who inherited a team, from the man who put most of the talented pieces together, Frank Selee. It’s debatable as to whether or not Chance was a great game strategist but you can’t argue the success the Cubs had from 1906 to 1908.
The other type of manager Rickey referred to was the in-game technician. Fielder Jones was this type of manager. Jones was able to take lesser talent and make his team competitive through strategy and guile. While Chance casually dismissed the White Sox in the ’06 World Series, Jones spotted the flaws that made the Cubs susceptible to defeat. Chicago newspapers widely credited Jones for the Sox championship while Chance still insisted he had the better team. Even a Cleveland Plain Dealer headline at season’s end read, “Pennant Was Won By Brains.”[fn]Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 7, 1906.[/fn]
So, what type of manager was Lajoie? In an age when most players were about 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, Nap Lajoie was 6-foot-1, 195. He was a large presence on the field. The question arises, like many great natural players, was Lajoie able to understand and work with players of lesser abilities? John C. Skipper in his book A Biographical Dictionary of Major League Baseball Managers writes that “Lajoie frequently exhibited a trait common to superstars—impatience…” He also cites Lajoie from 1909: “You can’t win in the major leagues unless you have players who know the game. We don’t have time to teach and train youngsters up here. Our job is to win pennants, not run schools.”[fn]John C. Skipper, A Biographical Dictionary of Major League Baseball Managers, McFarland & Company, 2003.[/fn]Lajoie’s teams would finish has high as second just once during his managerial career.
Steve Constantelos cites George Stovall in his SABR BioProject article, commenting on Lajoie, “He wasn’t what I would call a good manager. ’Bout all he’d ever say was ‘let’s go out and get them so-and-so’s today.’ He knew he could do his share but it didn’t help the younger fellows much.” He adds that Stovall criticized Lajoie’s lack of on-field managing savvy, including not having any signs worth mentioning.[fn]SABR BioProject.[/fn]
What did the press say about Lajoie?
By mid-July 1906, the Plain Dealer was openly questioning Lajoie as a manager. The paper had comments like, “bad coaching” or “Lajoie left Bernhard in the box too long.”[fn]Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 8, 1906.[/fn] Sports writer Harry P. Edwards openly praised White Sox manager Fielder Jones and compared him to Lajoie. Commenting on Chicago he wrote, the Sox are “seldom guilty of making a dumb play.” “Larry makes the mistake of not varying his style of play more.” “The team plays by a rigid set of rules that the opposing team knows as well as Cleveland.” He goes on to say the Naps don’t protect base stealers by swinging at pitches and that Lajoie has never tried the squeeze play. He even requested that Lajoie utilize the hit and run play which the White Sox use so well.[fn]Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 15, 1906.[/fn] At season’s end, Edwards wrote that Cleveland “lost due to poor base running and poor head work. The inattention to inside work caused Cleveland to lose many a game.”[fn]20. Ibid., October 7, 1906.[/fn]
Sabermetricians have come up with a method to predict a team’s won-loss percentage. The Pythagorean method takes the team’s runs scored and the runs allowed and puts them into a percentage to create what the team’s final record should be. This method says the Naps should have had a record of 98–55 in 1906.[fn]www.Baseball-Reference.com.[/fn] That record would have eclipsed the White Sox for the pennant. The Naps however finished nine games worse than expected. How much of this was Lajoie’s fault? This method when applied to Lajoie’s managerial career shows his teams won two more than expected in ’05, eight more than expected in ’07, but in ’08 the Naps were minus two, and in ’09, they played to expectations. The PM shows he was one game worse than expected while managing.
Total Baseball uses a similar method to figure expected wins and has a statistic which is based on actual wins versus expected wins. In ’06, Total Baseball shows Lajoie was a minus 7.6 victories. This method shows he was +1.1 in ’05, +8.4 in ’07, even in ’08, and 3.4 in ’09.[fn]John Thorn, Pete Palmer, Michael Gershman, editors, Total Baseball, 6th Edition, Total Sports, 1999.[/fn] This shows that Lajoie was 5.3 games above expected in his four-plus years overall. Neither method proves that Lajoie was a good or bad manager, but both show his team underperformed in ’06.
A change in the batting order
Lajoie was quoted at the start of the season as to having “fixed” his batting order and he didn’t plan on making any changes before June 1, no matter how things went. The changes to the order started in mid-May. The changes would continue the rest of the year.
Elmer Flick, a career .313 hitter, was third on the Naps in 1906 in batting average and on base percentage, behind Lajoie. Flick, who started the season hitting in the third spot in the batting order, was moved into the leadoff spot on May 10. The Naps promptly beat Ed Walsh and Chicago 15–1. The team caught fire in May, winning 15 of their 23 games. Flick would end up leading the league in runs scored. Bill Bradley started the season hitting second. The slugging Bradley was asked to sacrifice himself to move the leadoff hitter along. Bradley had 14 sacrifice hits, twice as many as any of his teammates, in the middle of May. He was also hitting just .197 and found himself batting seventh on May 18, a spot in the order where he would stay. The move to seventh must have agreed with him, as he hit over .300 the rest of his games, to up his average to .275. Lajoie believed in the standard practice of bunting if the leadoff man got on base, regardless of the batter.[fn]Skipper, op. cit.[/fn]
Lajoie did have a tendency to place his backups in the same spot of the batting order as the player he replaced. For example, “Muskrat” Bill Shipke, who had a career average of .199, filled in for Lajoie at second two games early in the year, and hit cleanup. He was 0 for 6. Hurlers Otto Hess and Addie Joss needed to play some games in the outfield as injuries piled up late in July. Hess even hit third one game when Terry Turner was out of the lineup. Barbeau, the .194 hitter, also hit third for several games for Turner.
But on August 25, the month the Naps went 11–14, Flick was dropped in the batting order, ultimately ending up batting sixth the rest of the season. With the injuries to Bay and Bradley, Lajoie started tinkering with the batting order. George Stovall played games at second and third base down the stretch. Stovall on the season hit .273 with an on base percentage of .288. Stovall was inserted into the second spot in the batting order. Lajoie ended up leading off Ben Caffyn, just up from Des Moines, and Jim Jackson the last six weeks of the season. Caffyn had a .194 batting average with an on base percentage of .291. Jackson hit .214 on the year with an on base percentage of .290. Would Flick’s average of .311 and .372 on base percentage at the top of the order have allowed the Naps to score more runs? Even with the top of the order being tied up by Caffyn, Jackson, and Stovall, the Naps did go 27–12 in September and October.
Lajoie played light-hitting Jap Barbeau for 32 games at third base after Bradley went down. Barbeau, while a fan favorite due to his diminutive size, was roundly criticized for his poor play by the press. Lajoie did have another option for third base, George Stovall. Stovall had been platooning at first base with Claude Rossman. Would the Naps have been able to outrun the White Sox down the stretch if Lajoie had shifted Stovall to third earlier?
The Cleveland press noted that the White Sox were able to make the most of their base hits. As a comparison, the ChiSox scored .500 runs per base hit while Cleveland scored .439 runs per hit. The seventh place Nationals, who scored 145 fewer runs than the Naps, also plated .440 runs per base hit. Chicago was clearly able to take better advantage of their hits than Cleveland.
Did the Naps lose close-scoring games?
The Naps struggled on the season in close games, finishing 21–25 in one-run games.[fn]www.Baseball-Reference.com.[/fn] Without the play-by-play records, one can’t really tell if Lajoie cost his team in those games. But Cleveland lost five one-run games against the White Sox. Change those losses to wins and Cleveland wins the pennant. In contrast, the weak-hitting White Sox were 29–19 in one-run games while New York was 29–16.[fn]Ibid.[/fn] Extra innings also caused problems for the squad as they dropped 8 of the 17 overtime contests. Did Lajoie’s use of the sacrifice hurt the team in those tight ballgames? An example of their struggles in close games came on September 11. The Naps played 11 innings against Detroit, losing 4–3. Cleveland left 16 men on base including leaving the bases loaded in both the 10th and 11th innings.
Did Cleveland struggle against any particular pitcher(s)?
Cleveland had a strong lineup of left-handed hitters. As a result, the Naps went 10–20 in games started by opposing southpaws.[fn]Ibid.[/fn] They averaged over one run scored per game fewer against the left-handed starters than against right-handers, 4.55 runs vs 3.46.
Was this something on which Lajoie could have improved? Only Terry Turner, Bill Bradley, George Stovall, and Lajoie had decent batting averages for right-handed hitters and we know that Bradley missed almost half the season. Lajoie made the final decisions as to which players to keep on the roster. Did he make the right choices? Based on the players he had during spring training, it appears he took the best of the lot he had available. Cleveland did try to add players during the season as the injuries mounted up. They made an offer to Detroit for disgruntled outfielder Matty McIntyre but were denied.[fn]Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 11, 1906.[/fn] They were only able to add minor league outfielders Ben Caffyn and Joe Birmingham during the season.
Did the Naps play better at home or on the road?
Cleveland was the best road team in the American League in 1906, winning 42 of their 76 away games for a winning percentage of .553. They were 47–30 while at home for a percentage of .610. The White Sox did play well on the road with a winning percentage of .527 but they dominated the league in Chicago, winning 54 of 77 games. New York, which finished the year playing their last 25 games on the road, had a sub .500 record in out-of-town games, 37–38. But they also played better at home than Cleveland, finishing with a record of 53–23, .697.[fn]www.Baseball-Reference.com.[/fn]
The White Sox 19-game win streak made the difference
The most telling statistic of all is the Naps’ won-lost record from July 20 through the end of the season. Hampered by the loss of third baseman Bill Bradley and center fielder Harry Bay, the Naps simply could not keep pace. The Naps played at a .562 pace from July 20 to the end of the season, far behind that of the White Sox, whose 19-game win streak from August 2–23, propelled them to a .686 pace the rest of the season. New York also ran off a 15-game winning streak that started in late August. The two winning streaks kept the Naps from getting close.
The standings from the start of the season through July 19 illustrate the drop off in Cleveland’s performance pre-and-post injuries:
From the season’s start through July 19, the Naps were right with the league leaders:[fn]Retrosheet.org, www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1906/07191906.htm.[/fn]
From July 20 through the rest of the season, the White Sox, bolstered by their 19-game win streak, ran away with the AL race:
Clearly, the Naps were slowed by the loss of Bay, Bradley, and Addie Joss during most of August.
So, what happened to Cleveland in 1906?
Injuries to Harry Bay, Bill Bradley, and Addie Joss hurt the team. The loss of Addie Joss for most of August was damaging. August was the only month on the season where the team didn’t have a winning record.
Cleveland had losing records against the two teams that finished ahead of them in the standings.
The White Sox got hot when they had to and got into the pennant race. The Highlander winning streak pushed the Naps farther down in the standings. Even though the Naps got hot in September, they had fallen too far behind to catch the front runners.
The Naps struggled against left-handed pitchers. A .500 record against southpaws would have seen them win the pennant.
Cleveland had a losing record in one-run and extra-inning games. Take away the five one-run losses to Chicago and the Naps would win pennant.
The Forest City Nine weren’t as effective as Chicago and New York playing in their home ballpark.
Lack of pitching depth. Pitchers Harry Eells and Happy Townsend were simply a qualitative drop off from the loss of Addie Joss during most of August.
The Naps were never able to replace Bay and Bradley. Jim Jackson and Ben Caffyn tried to fill in for Bay but both had offensive and defensive struggles. Hess and Joss were forced into the outfield for a few games. Lajoie tried to replace Bradley with Barbeau, who hit and fielded poorly, and it wasn’t until Stovall was finally moved to third base in late August that the team started winning again.
The press openly questioned Lajoie’s strategy, or rather, lack of strategy. It was pointed out that Chicago specifically did not make “dumb” plays and made the most of their base runners.
The injuries appear to be what hurt the Naps most in 1906, but these nine elements combined, dropped what may have been the best team in the league into a team whose record has faded into obscurity.
The net result: Cleveland underachieved
Cleveland’s underachievement put them, chronologically, at the top of the list of “what could have been” or “what should have been” for the many outstanding teams who simply either lacked the luck or intangible characteristics that dropped them into the category of also-ran.
The 1906 Naps were a solid team. However, key injuries, along with the memorable 19-game win streak generated by the White Sox in August, dropped the Naps into obscurity and prevented them from becoming Cleveland’s first pennant winner.
ROD CABORN and DAVE LARSON both live in the Orlando area and are co-chairmen of the SABR Auker-Seminick Chapter in Central Florida. Larson had an article on the 1906 White Sox in the 2001 issue of the “Baseball Research Journal” and authored the Fielder Jones biography on the SABR BioProject website.
The Sporting News and Sporting Life, 1906, 1907, 1908.
J.M. Murphy, The National Pastime, The Society for American Baseball Research, 1988.
Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 1 – October 31, 1906.