Lynch: The great wigwag scheme of 1909

From SABR member Mike Lynch at The National Pastime Museum on October 14, 2013:

It was Sept. 25, 1909 and the New York Highlanders were going nowhere fast. But things were about to get better fast, thanks to a notable bit of baseball chicanery.

Heading into a twin-bill against the first-place and eventual American League champion Detroit Tigers, New York was fifth and 23 games behind with a 68-73 record. Led by second baseman Frank LaPorte, outfielders Clyde Engle and Ray Demmitt and first baseman Hal Chase, the team’s offense was in the middle of the pack, scoring 3.86 runs per game.

Though the pitching staff boasted a starter in Joe Lake, who posted a 1.88 earned run average and part-time starter Jack Quinn, who pitched to a 1.97 ERA, the unit as a whole ranked next to last in the league in runs allowed per game at 3.84.

The Highlanders, who officially became the Yankees upon moving from Hilltop Park into the Polo Grounds in 1913, finished the season a week later, still in fifth place at 74-77 and 23 1/2 games out of first. But considering they had suffered through the worst season in franchise history in 1908, going 51-103 under managers Clark Griffith (24-32) and Kid Elberfeld (27-71), the 1909 campaign was a success. Plus, the Highlanders reached a half-million in attendance for the first time, pulling in 501,000 paying customers.

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Originally published: October 14, 2013. Last Updated: October 14, 2013.