This article was written by Al Kermisch
This article was published in the 1986 Baseball Research Journal
Even contemporary writers were misled about Walter Johnson’s 1913 streak. Walter Mueller homered in his first at-bat in the major leagues, but another player was credited with the blast.
JOHNSON’S 1913 EARNED-RUN STREAK
In the 1985 edition of this publication one of my items stated that Walter Johnson had pitched 57 consecutive innings without giving up an earned run to start the 1913 American League season. My findings, unfortunately, are not substantiated by the official records, which show no error was charged to Chick Gandil in the first inning of Washington’s 1913 season opener against the Yankees and that the run off Johnson was officially listed as earned. My research had included checking four Washington newspapers; three of the four had charged an error to Gandil and called the run unearned. It would appear that the reporter from the Washington Herald, who did not record it as an error, turned out to be the official scorer.
The evidence was so overwhelming in the other papers that it was my conclusion the Herald had just overlooked the error. The season of 1913 was the first in which the American League compiled earned-run averages. Detailed instructions to scorers on the new system were not sent out by American League president Ban Johnson until May 9, a month after the season started. J. Ed Grillo, baseball editor of the Washington Star, published Johnson’s letter on May 11. In his story Grillo wrote: “Johnson (Walter) undoubtedly leads the league now, because only one run has been scored on him and that was the result of an error, and would not be scored against him according to the rules of scoring.” On the same day the Washington Post published a summary of Johnson’s record since the beginning of the season. At the bottom of the summary the Post stated: “The only run scored against him was an unearned run in the first inning of the first game.”
What made the most impression on me, however, were several columns by Grantland Rice, one of the country’s most respected sportswriters. Rice followed Johnson’s spectacular runless streak very closely, including both his spring exhibition and regular-season games. His column “Bingles and Bunts” appeared regularly in the Washington Times. On April 25 he wrote: “By the time Walter Johnson gets through with the American League batting averages this season there won’t be enough left to plug up the eye of a bush league needle. The Senatorial wonder is now working as no slabsman in the game ever worked before. Forty-four innings so far this spring without an earned run, 27 rounds of championship stuff, with one run scored, and that unearned.”
In his column of May 13, a day before Johnson’s streak supposedly ended, Rice again commented on the streak. This time he stated: “Johnson has done something more than spin out 53 innings without a run. All told this spring, against clubs in both leagues – Phillies, Giants and Braves in the National; Athletics, Red Sox, Yanks and White Sox in the American – he has pitched 72 innings without an earned run marked up. The lone tally scored by the Yanks [on opening day] came through on Gandil’s error.”
A BIZARRE FIRST AT-BAT HOME RUN
Every player dreams of hitting a home run the first time he comes to the plate in the majors. In the long history of big league baseball fewer than 60 players have accomplished this feat. Just imagine the satisfaction of seeing your name in the boxscore the next day. On the other hand, imagine a player hitting a three-run home run on the first pitch to him in the majors and off one of baseball’s best pitchers to boot, only to look at the paper the next day and not only find that the credit had gone to someone else but also that your name was not even in the boxscore! Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? But it did happen, and although the mixup was straightened out later, the player in question has yet to receive proper credit in the record book.
The player in this unusual situation was Walter Mueller, who made his debut for Pittsburgh in 1922. Walter spent four years with the Pirates but is best remembered as the father of Don Mueller, a solid outfielder with the New York Giants for many years. Walter was with the Pirates at the start of the 1922 season, but he sat on the bench for three weeks before manager George Gibson decided to give him a chance to play. Because Pittsburgh had no Sunday ball in those days, the Pirates interrupted a home stay to go to Chicago for a one-day trip on Sunday, May 7, 1922. The Pirates hopped all over Grover Cleveland Alexander, driving him from the mound in the second inning, and went on to win, 11-5. Alexander received a bad break in the first inning when Jigger Statz misjudged a line drive and it got by him for a three-run home run.
In the boxscore the home run is credited to “C. Rohwer.” The Pirates had brothers Ray and Claude Rohwer on their roster to start the 1922 campaign. Ray was a good sub and pinch-hitter who was in his second season with the Pirates, but Claude, who was farmed out several days later, never played a game in the majors. Yet, the name of “C. Rohwer” appeared in the boxscore in the game of May 7. Of course it was Walter Mueller who was in right field for the Pirates that day. It was his major league debut, and despite the fact that he hit a home run on his first time at bat and on the first pitch off the great Alexander, the mixup with C. Rohwer was enough to keep his name out of the record book.
WILLIAMS’ FIRST HOMER IN PLAYOFF GAME
Ted Williams was just 17 years old when he broke into Organized Baseball with San Diego of the Pacific Coast League 50 years ago. He played in 42 games and failed to hit a home run in 107 times at bat. His first regular-season home run came on April 11, 1937, off Stewart Bolen of the San Francisco Missions in the second game of a doubleheader at San Diego. Williams, however, did hit one home run for the Padres in 1936. It came in a PCL playoff game against Oakland.
Willie Ludolph, who led the PCL in winning percentage in 1936 with a record of2l-6, pitched the Oaks to a 6-3 victory in the opener of the playoff series at Oakland on September 15. Ludolph blanked San Diego until the eighth inning when the Padres scored three times. With Berly Horne on base, Williams drove the ball on a line over the right-field fence. The ball was hit with such force that the Oakland outfielders never made a move. For Williams, who had turned 18 less than three weeks before, it was the top thrill of his first year in professional baseball.
HEILMANN BEGAN CAREER AS SHORTSTOP
Harry Heilmann’s playing record shows he began his Organized Baseball career with the Portland club in the Northwest League in 1913. The Hall of Famer did play with that Portland club, for whom he hit .305 in 122 games, but he actually made his debut for the Portland club of the Pacific Coast League and the position he started at was shortstop.
Walter McCreedie, manager of the Portland PCL team, kept Heilmann on the bench for the first two weeks of the season, but on April 18, after his club had lost five games in a row, he decided to give the youngster a chance.
“This kid Heilmann is the most promising infielder I have ever seen,” said the Portland pilot. “I didn’t like to start him at the beginning of the year because a youngster is naturally nervous. But I think I will start him tomorrow – maybe at short and maybe at third.”
The next day, April 19, Heilmann started at shortstop and was 1-for-3 with two sacrifice hits. In the field he handled one putout and two assists without an error. The following day he started at short again and failed to hit in three tries, had another sacrifice hit and posted one putout in his only chance. Portland lost both games to Los Angeles, and Heilmann went back to the bench. Several weeks later he was turned over to the Northwest League club in the same city.
BRADLEY MAJORS’ FIRST SHUTOUT KING
In 111 years of major league competition only two pitchers – both named after Presidents and both in the National League – have been able to post as many as 16 shutouts in one season: George Washington Bradley in 1876 and Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1916. The best any American League pitcher has been able to produce is 13 by Jack Coombs of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1910.
Alexander’s accomplishment, of course, is more familiar to the modern fan than Bradley’s because it was made under playing conditions similar to those in vogue today. Bradley accomplished his feat during the National League’s first season when the pitching distance was only 45 feet. But Bradley’s achievement of 16 shutouts takes on added significance because the entire output of shutouts for the league totaled only 46, giving Bradley slightly better than one-third of the blankings.
Bradley was one of the pitching stars of the National League’s initial campaign. He pitched in every one of his team’s 64 games, winning 45 and losing but 19. His other accomplishments that year included the majors’ first no-hit game, three one-hitters, twice pitching three consecutive shutouts, each time within a space of five days, and posting the majors’ first 1-0 victory. His second skein of three straight runless games, including his no-hitter, all came against the strong Hartford club and represented the only shutouts suffered by the team that year. Bradley calcimined every club in the league except Boston. He turned in four against Louisville, three each over the New York Mutuals and Hartford, and two apiece against Chicago, Cincinnati and the Athletics of Philadelphia.
TIME FOR A CHANGE IN TAYLORS
Wally N. Taylor played and managed in the minor leagues for many years. He is listed in The Baseball Encyclopedia as having played with Louisville in the National League in 1898. But Wally doesn’t belong in the Encyclopedia because he never played in the majors. He went to spring training with the Chicago National League club in 1893 but was released before the regular season opened and returned to the minors. He spent the entire 1898 season with Toronto in the Eastern League.
The Taylor who played with Louisville in 1898 was William H. “Billy” Taylor. He was purchased by Louisville late in the `98 season from Grand Rapids of the Inter-State League. He returned to the minors the following year. Besides Grand Rapids, Billy made stops in many minor league towns, including Lincoln, Jacksonville, Ill.; New Castle, Wheeling, Dayton, Atlanta, Harrisburg and Little Rock. He was released by Little Rock just before the end of the 1905 season and departed for Cincinnati, reportedly to receive treatment for lung trouble. Taylor checked into a Cincinnati hotel and within a few days was dead.
On September 13, 1905, the following article in the Cincinnati Enquirer described the unusual events leading to Taylor’s death:
Fighting and screaming like a madman, William Taylor, said to be a baseball player living in Pittsburgh, Pa., gave three policemen of the Bellevue Hotel at Pearl and Butler streets a terrible battle last night, before he could be taken from his room and sent to the City Hospital. When he reached there, the only article of clothing on him was a shred of an undershirt. Taylor, who is 25 years old, had been stopping at the hotel for several days. He had been with a minor league club and was on his way home. He got to drinking, it is claimed, and yesterday had an attack of delirium tremens. He became violent and began to destroy things in his rooms. His cries alarmed guests in the hotel and Patrol 2 was called. The crew had a hard time before they could subdue Taylor, who fought them and rolled through the halls of the hotel until his clothing was torn off. He fought the police all the way to the hospital. Then he had to be shackled and was sent to the strong ward.
Taylor’s family in Pittsburgh sent a doctor to Cincinnati to check on the player’s death. On September 15, Dr. H. B. Roemer sent the following wire to Pittsburgh:
I wish to contradict the statement with regard to the death of Billy Taylor. I was sent here on behalf of the family, and find on examination that Taylor did not die from delirium tremens but from a blow on the head received from playing baseball.
Taylor’s remains were shipped to Pittsburgh on September 15. Although the Enquirer article listed Taylor’s age at 25, he was about 30 years old at the time of his death.
LEFTHANDED COMPLIMENT FOR `87 ORIOLES
Except for an occasional emergency situation, modern baseball strategy restricts left-handed throwers to pitchers, first basemen and outfielders. Big league baseball 100 years ago was not so restrictive because there were some left-handed catchers, third basemen, shortstops and second basemen. The 1887 Baltimore team of the American Association, which finished in third place with a 77-58 record, was somewhat of a “left-handed” organization. Two southpaw pitchers – Matt Kilroy (46) and John “Phenomenal” Smith (25) – combined for 71 of the team’s 77 victories. In addition, Bob Greenwood, the regular second baseman, was a left-handed thrower, as was Sam Trott, who caught 69 games, more than any other Baltimore catcher.
Trott is listed in The Baseball Encyclopedia as being a right-handed thrower, but he definitely threw left-handed. Sam was the regular catcher for southpaw Smith. When Chris Fulmer, who was usually behind the bat for lefthander Kilroy, got hurt, Trott took up those duties, too. He was the catcher when Kilroy pitched and won two games in one day against the Philadelphia Athletics on October 1, 1887. Trott also filled in at second base in 11 games when Greenwood was out with an injury.
60 FEET, 6 INCHES STILL FASCINATES
The pitching distance of 60 feet, six inches has been the standard in the majors since 1893, but the “six inches” part of it seems to fascinate many baseball fans. The question is often asked as to how the “six inches” became part of the pitching distance. One theory that makes the rounds now and then is that a surveyor mistook a reading of “60 feet, 0 inches” for “60 feet 6 inches.” This theory was given credence by Frank G. Menke in his Encyclopedia of Sports, published many years ago. In his chronological baseball history, Menke wrote the following: “1893 – Pitching distance increased from 50 feet to 60 feet 6 inches. Plan was 60 feet; diagram read 60′ 0″ but surveyor mistook it for 60′ 6″.”
The facts, however, do not uphold the theory of a surveyor mistake. Officially, the pitching distance was increased from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches in 1893. In reality, the increase was only five feet, and a switch from a “pitcher’s box” to a “pitcher’s plate” was the important change that went a long way in making the game what it is today.
In 1892, the pitcher’s box was an area five and one-half feet long by four feet wide at a distance of 50 feet (from the front of the box) from home plate. Since the pitcher, in delivering the ball, had to keep one foot in contact with the back line of the box, the real pitching distance was 55 feet, six inches rather than the official rulebook listing of 50 feet. When the rules makers decided to move the pitcher back in 1893 in order to create more hitting, suggestions for the increased distance even included one of moving the pitcher to the middle of the diamond. After considerable debate, a compromise settled on a five-foot increase. But along with it was another important change. The five-and-one-half-foot pitcher’s box was abolished and in its place a pitcher’s plate 12 inches long and four inches wide was substituted. The new rule written into the 1893 Official Playing Rules read as follows:
Rule 5. The Pitcher’s boundary shall be marked by a white rubber plate, twelve inches long and four inches wide, so fixed in the ground as to be even with the surface at the distance of sixty feet and six inches from the outer corner of the home plate, so that a line drawn from the centre of the Home Base to the centre of second base will give six inches on either side.
Two years later – in 1896 – the pitcher’s plate was enlarged to 24 inches by six inches, and it has remained that way ever since.
MILLS KEPT FEDERAL LOOP ALIVE IN `16
The outlaw Federal League, backed by such powerful men as Robert B. Ward of Ward Baking Company, oil baron Harry F. Sinclair and Charles H. Weeghman, owner of a chain of cafeterias in Chicago, battled Organized Baseball for two years – 1914 and 1915 – but finally ceased operation after reaching an agreement with the major leagues. The agreement provided compensation for most of the Federal League teams and assignment of the top players to various American and National League clubs.
One player, Rupert F. Mills, who had signed with the Newark Federal League club in 1915 after graduating from Notre Dame, refused to accept a settlement. He had been signed to a two-year contract by Pat Powers, president of Sinclair’s Newark club. Mills was offered $600 for his contract, which called for $3,000 a season. Mills refused and insisted that his contract be fulfilled. Mills had studied law at Notre Dame and knew something about contracts.
Powers countered by insisting that Mills report to the ballpark every fair day. Mills punched in at 8:55 a.m. and worked out until noon. He took a lunch break and was back at work from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. He kept this up until early in July, when he finally reached an agreement with Sinclair. He then signed with Detroit but agreed to finish the season with Harrisburg in the New York State League. He had reported to the Newark ballpark for 65 days prior to the settlement.
He enlisted in the Army in 1917, served in France and attained the rank of first lieutenant. When the war ended, he abandoned his baseball career for law and politics.
Mills was a native of Newark, N.J., and was one of the most popular athletes ever turned out by that city. He died a tragic death on July 20, 1929, when he attempted to rescue a long-time friend after their canoe overturned. Mills suffered a heart attack during the rescue and disappeared. His body was recovered 25 minutes later, but he was pronounced dead. He was given a full military funeral, and a crowd estimated at 15,000 turned out to pay final tribute.
BILL GEORGE 13-FOR-13 IN TWIN-BILL
William M. (Bill) George was a pitcher-outfielder for parts of three seasons with New York in the National League and Columbus in the American Association. As a pitcher he had an undistinguished record of six wins and ten losses. George eventually found his niche as an outfielder in the minors. He became one of the top hitters in the Western League.
On August 19, 1894, George had quite a day at the bat for Grand Rapids. He registered 13 hits in 13 times at bat as his club slaughtered Detroit, 36-15 and 15-10. In the first game George was 8-for-8, including two doubles and a home run. In the nightcap, a six-inning affair, he was 5-for-5, with a double and a home run.
THE PUZZLING PITTSBURGH GRAYS
In the 1978 Baseball Research Journal, I reported that Romer C. “Reddy” Grey, brother of novelist Zane, had played one game for Pittsburgh in 1903 but was not listed in The Baseball Encyclopedia. Romer has been added to the latest edition of the Macmillan publication, but he is credited with having played two games instead of one, and this has caused some confusion. SABR member Bill Deane is the latest to raise some questions about the Grays. In going through the National League’s official day-by-day records at the National Baseball Library, Deane came across an individual record which listed “George Gray” as having played two games with the 1903 Pirates – on May 28 and May 31. Deane was further puzzled when he checked the boxscore of the May 31 game and discovered that “Diehl” was shown as the left fielder.
Some of the “Grays” who played in the majors in the early days often have been confused with one another, even to the information in their obituaries, but I can provide a few answers to the problem. There was a George “Chummy” Gray with Pittsburgh in 1899; he was a pitcher and played with the Pirates for just that one season.
There is no doubt that it was Romer C “Reddy” Grey who played in the game of May 28, 1903 at Boston. During his professional career Grey’s name was often shown as “Gray” in boxscores. Reddy’s participation in the game was verified in the Boston Morning Journal the next morning as follows: “Reddy Gray, formerly with Rochester, was loaned to Pittsburgh for the day and played left field. He will join the Worcester team at once.” The following day – May 29 – Reddy played the outfield for the Eastern League team.
The game of May 31 was played at Cincinnati. In that contest Pittsburgh used a Cincinnati amateur by the name of Ernest Diehl in left field. He had one hit in three at-bats and handled his only chance in the field. But the Cincinnati Enquirer added to the confusion as to who played left field for the Pirates that day by showing “Gray, lf” in its boxscore. It is possible that since the game was played in Cincinnati the boxscore as it appeared in the Enquirer may have been sent to the league office as the official score. That could have accounted for the additional game credited to “George Gray.” However, the following article in the Enquirer the next day leaves no doubt that it was Diehl who was in the game:
Pittsburgh, June 1. The Pittsburgh management believes there is still a chance to secure Ernie Diehl, who made such a fine impression in left field yesterday. The boy was recommended by Sam Leever. An offer was made to have him join the Pirates, but his business affairs prevented him from accepting. The local officials state, however, that they are confident of bagging the promising young outfielder.
For the record, the Pittsburgh left fielders for the games of May 28 and May 31, 1903, were Romer C. Grey and Ernest G. Diehl, respectively.