Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Games 18 and 19, Sunday, April 27, 1924

Because of the short travel distance from Seattle to Portland, Seattle was able to schedule their home opening series against the Sacramento Solons from Wednesday to Monday. Opening Day had featured a long parade that wound through downtown Seattle before heading over to Rainier Avenue South and the Coast League Park. I am going to try to rebuild the attendance numbers, because it seems as if Seattle was really drawing good crowds. Although they played a large number of double headers, attendance seems to fluctuate between 5,000 and 8,000 fans on weekdays, and upwards of 10,000 on weekends. I found a Sporting News article from the summer of that year exclaiming an attendance of 51,000 for 3 weekend games.

My point is, the PCL had clubs like Seattle that drew on par with some MLB clubs. It speaks to the quality of baseball being played as much as the popularity. In Lyle Kenai Wilson’s Sunday Afternoons at Garfield Park, he quotes an article from 1911 I believe, that states attendance for a game between a Nisei club team and a Negro League club that drew 4,000 fans at Seattle’s Woodland Park. Now, the two details I find most interesting about that are the place and the population. The place, Woodland Park, which at that time of electric trains and somewhat segregated neighborhoods in the city, meant the 4,000 people coming through the gate were a mix of Nisei, Issei, and African-American, as well as the locals who lived around the Woodland Park neighborhood, which is lots of Scandinavians at that time. Now, the other part is the sheer number of 4,000. I remember going to Mariner games in the Kingdome in the early 80’s with fewer fans. We see this in 1924 as well. In another post on the Meiji University baseball team tour of that year, one of the biggest contests for that team was plying the Nippon AC baseball club. That game took place at the Coast League Park instead of a smaller venue. Crappy baseball, even if it’s part of a major cultural event, doesn’t draw a crowd. If you're getting 4,000 people, your playing good. I think if you look at the makeup of the teams in the semi-pro and city leagues, you gain an important insight into the demographic makeup of a place and the way those populations interact, more so than the big club. The semi-pro leagues were always integrated, that's part of baseball history going back to the time of proto-ball before the Civil War. The melting pot was often a chunky soup. Baseball, as a source of information, can thus tell us about race and society. I mean, after all, this team I’m writing about is called the “Indians”. That means something deeper than itself.

On Sunday, April 27, 1924, a Seattle crowd reported at 12,000 got to witness a double header filled with excitement and dismay across an 18-inning afternoon. Certainly, fans got to see both sides of a team that would go from worst to first, though on this day they saw the best first, and worst last.

By the end of that Sunday slate of games Seattle was still one spot out of the basement, but you could definitely see the makings of a contender.
Standings of Teams in Coast League, as of Sunday April 27th:

Team                                       Won    Lost     Pct.
San Francisco                          13       8        .619
Vernon                                    13        8        .619
Salt Lake                                11        9        .550
Los Angeles                            11       10       .524
Oakland                                  10      11        .476
Portland                                   9       12        .429
Seattle                                      8       11       .421
Sacramento                              7       13       .350

Sacramento and Seattle would have more game to play on Monday before the start of the fourth week of the season. On this Sunday, they split the fifth and sixth games of their series. Seattle won its fifth straight in the early game 3 to 2. Sacramento finally picked up a game by winning the late game 15 to 5.
Ray Rohwer, maybe the last great left fielder ever to play professional baseball in Seattle (perhaps his trade at the end of the season could be looked as Seattle’s own lost and unknown, and position-specific Curse of the Bambino), had his consecutive plate appearances reaching first base streak snapped at 13. I found the hitting stats published in newspapers for the 1924 PCL season. They came out in December. It tracks games, at-bats, runs, hits, stolen bases, home runs, triples, doubles, sacrifice hits, runs batted in, caught stealing and batting average. As we have seen from looking through the narratives from the dailies and looking into the box score, guys like Rohwer must have had a significant on-base percentage. I will be trying to rebuild those types of statistics as this project moves along.
The staff writer highlights the pinch-hitting ability of George Cutshaw, showing his reputation to be, as the term would come later when cars became more ubiquitous, a clutch-hitter. Although, and maybe this is because the writers were stationary, I’m not sure when they started traveling with the teams, Cutshaw had actually had a pinch-hit at-bat in the fifth game of the Salt Lake series, going 0-1 in what was apparently a forgettable 15 to 10 loss on Sunday, April 20. Although, perhaps by “yesterday’s opportunity to hit, his first” was meant to indicate his first hit rather than simply his first at-bat. Cutshaw would get 53 at-bats in 43 games that year, with his average declining from its current .500 down to .245. Truly, his wisdom would have more teeth than his batting.
Although, just this one win would make a difference at the end of a 200-game season.

On a sadder note, catcher Earl Brucker suffered an injury when Earl McNeeley, who would end the season with a heroic moment in the 1924 World Series, swung his bat all the way around as Brucker dived forward. The bat hit Brucker on the head, behind the left ear. I don’t know what happened to Brucker after that. We’ll see, but the promising young catcher would eventually make his way to the majors in 1936. Eventually, he would even get to manage on an interim basis for the Reds. I am not sure if this injury contributed to his delayed shot at the top, but his record in Baseball Reference is sporadic for several years. He played in 1925 and 1926 for Lincoln in the Western League, then nothing for the next four years. Then, in 1930, he starts making his way back up through the minors. It may be that these injuries contributed to his difficult in playing, or that he played semi-pro ball. Probably he worked for a living to support a young son.  But, eventually he would land that spot on a major league roster. I’m sure after his struggles, under the presumption he struggled, that must have been quite a day. I will look around, see if I can find evidence of him playing semi-pro ball.I do know that he and his son, Earl Brucker, Jr., eventually ran a race track in El Cajon. Brucker, Sr. was also a legendary high school player in San Diego.

Another story developing that year was how the pitching staff had come together. I read an article in a recent Baseball Research Journal about the development of the five-man pitching rotation. Here is a picture with a little blurb about the development of Seattle’s starting pitching staff that year. 1 is Bill Plummer, the youngest Seattle pitcher that year and about whom I’ve written before. He would eventually marry the sister of one of his teammates and have a son in the 1940s. That boy, also called Bill, would later back up Johnny Bench and have a disastrous season as a manager of the Seattle Mariners. 2 is Suds Sutherland, who was obtained in a trade for Harry Gardner, a pitcher that had been obtained as part of the same acquisition in December 1922 that brought Ray Rohwer to Seattle. 3 is George Steuland, late of the Chicago Cubs in an off-season acquisition, and previously managed by Wade Killefer’s brother Bill for that venerable franchise. 4 is Jim Bagby, just 4 short years removed an historic season and World Series with Cleveland’s 1920 champions. I don’t know if anyone has written a book about the 1920 Cleveland team, but it should happen (Bagby's son, Jim Bagby, Jr., also has a place in baseball history). 5 is Vean Gregg, who had been the best pitcher in the PCL in 1923, resuscitating a career once thought lost to arm injury. Gregg was one of the top pitchers of the early 1910s, and although he would get one final shot at the majors, this year was giving him his real final shot at glory.
Wade Killefer used his pitchers both in relief and as starters, juggling them around to meet the needs of the 7-game work week that saw usually between 54 to 70 innings of pitching needed. For instance, although Gregg was a veteran and the best pitcher in the PCL probably, so far in 1924 he had been used in relief as well as starting. Other pitchers on the staff were Wheezer Dell, who had been obtained from Vernon on waivers in 1923, Texan Carl Williams, local boy made good Vic Pigg, and Percy Lee Jones. Wheezer Dell and George Cutshaw were teammates on the 1916 Brooklyn Robins team that made the World Series.



As Reported in the Seattle Daily Times, Monday, April 28, 1924:

Win Clever Victory In First But Show Terribly in Second
Rohwer Stopped by Southpaw Thompson-Charlie Hall Beats Seattle With Well-Pitched Game.

THE Seattle team’s winning streak was stopped after its fifth victory over Sacramento yesterday and a banner Sunday crowd went home sorely disappointed at the showing of their athletes. The Indians won the first game 3 to 2 after apparently being beaten again, then turned around and got all the bad baseball possible out of their systems in the second, which they lost 13 to 5.
            More 12,000 people, a bigger crowd than opening day, attended the games, cheering the showing of the Indians in the first encounter, but showing considerable disgust in the second. Large numbers of the crowd left in the late innings of the second game.
            Ray Rohwer, Seattle left fielder, who had gone thirteen consecutive times at bat, making seven hits and drawing six bases on balls in that time, was stopped by the left-handed shoots of Thompson, the Sacramento pitcher in the first game, but came back with two singles off  Charlie Hall n the second encounter.
            The first game goes down in the books to the winning credit of Vean Gregg for it is pitchers who get credit for wins and losses, but to George Cutshaw, veteran of 15 years of baseball, goes credit for the winning runs.
            George went to bat in the pinch in the seventh inning with Indian runners roosting on second and third and Sacramento leading, 2 to 0. He delivered a healthy single to left, on the second ball pitched to him, scoring the pair and sewing up the game. A boot by Catcher Shea of the Solons let the winning run come across an inning later.
            When Cutshaw was with Brooklyn in the National League he was noted for just those stunts. He went along for nearly ten years, never a lusty hitter, but oh, such a bad actor in the pinches. Let the Superbas be a run or two behind, let a runner or two be on base waiting to score, and it was George Cutshaw’s time to act.
            It was with that in mind, because he needed a sound head out on the coaching lines with him and because if Cliff Brady was hurt there was no one left to take his place that Wade Killefer signed Cutshaw this spring. His coaching has been high- lass right along and yesterday’s opportunity to hit, his first, shows that he may be mighty valuable before the year is over.

First Game Well Played
            The first game was a splendidly played contest and the big crowd was in great humor when it was over.
            Sergeant Jim Bagby started for Seattle, with Lefty Thompson opposing him. For four innings they battled without a run being scored.
            Bagby looked fine. His control was splendid and the Solons didn’t hit a ball hard off of him all the time he was on the mound. Thompson, too, had everything for six innings, but when he broke he went sky high.
            McNeeley beat out a hit to deep short to open the fifth inning for Sacramento. McGinnis poked one at Elmer Bowman and in swinging hurriedly to make a force play at second Bowman threw high and wide. Crane made a great leaping catch but both runners were safe. Thompson sacrificed them along.
            Merlin Kopp, who had driven in a flock of Sacramento runs Saturday, dropped a lazy fly squarely on the right field foul line, scoring the two runners. Bagby came right back and stopped the Solons in the sixth and seventh, and then the Indians got busy.
            Elmer Bowman started the rally with a drive to left. Ray Rohwer forced him and Ted Baldwin followed with a double to left center on which Rohwer took third.
            Here it was that Manager Killefer called Cutshaw in to bat for Frank Tobin. Cutshaw looked over a bad ball, then hit a curve ball on the inside corner sharply to left, scoring the pair.
            The Indians won the game in the eighth on a single by Billy Lane, a base on balls to Brady, a sacrifice by Crane, an intentional pas issued to Brick Eldred and Bowman’s tap to third. Hemmingway fielded it cleanly, forced Lane at the plate but Catcher Shea in attempting to double Bowman at first threw into right field, Brady scoring the winning run.
           
Second Was Dismal
            The second game was as dismal as the first was thrilling. Everything imaginable in the way of bad baseball was inserted into the program by the Indians.
            Percy Lee Jones started to pitch, was wild as a hawk and after two runs had been chalked up and he had the bases full in the third with no one out Vic Pigg took up the pitching.
            Pigg caused Mollwitz and McNeeley to force men at the plate. It looked for a moment like he was going to pull the Indians out of that hole. But “Cooey” McGinnis, the midget shortstop of the Solons, dropped a long fly between Lane and Eldred for two bases, scoring Smith, Mollwitz and McNeeley.
            From that time on things got worse instead of better. Pigg was both wild and ineffective, the Solons scoring in every inning except the seventh and ninth.

Newcomers Get Chance
            Manager Wade Killefer sent Catcher Brucker, Shortstop Frank Emmer, First Basemen Jimmy Walsh and Outfielder Frank Osborne into the game, after the fifth inning.
            Osborne performed the unusual stunt of driving two balls over the right field fence, both foul, however, and then doubled to right in his first trial. Jimmy Walsh followed with another double to the same field, but Osborne thought the ball was going to be caught and was held at third on the hit.
            Emmer and Osborne both figured in a belated Seattle rally in the ninth that netted three runs.
            The Sacramento team plays here this afternoon following which Salt Lake City opens a seven-game series tomorrow afternoon.