Editor’s Note: The COVID-19 Pandemic, as all of you well know, has slammed our content to a halt. Usually, at this time we are knee-deep in game-recaps and interviews, but things are different.
To keep myself from bouncing off the walls, I wrote about one of the reasons I am a baseball fan; the story that my grandfather told me on how he became one. So I combined from what I remembered with a little bit of research on the subject.
Thank you in advance for reading.
My Grandfather was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, precisely one month after his parents emigrated from Italy in 1903. Like many young Italian-Americans, baseball served as a type of assimilation gateway, helping him feel more American. Years later, he took special pride in telling me about Joe DiMaggio, Tony Lazzeri, and Frank Crosetti.
And while they were great players, they were still members of the New York Yankees. He was a Philadelphia Athletics man.
Gramps saw Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb play, along with the great players of Connie Mack’s second dynasty in the late 1920s and early ’30s; Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Lefty Grove. But it was Mack’s first great club, the squad that played in four World Series between 1910 to 1914, that taught young Dominic Testa to love the game.
That squad, led by the magically-named $100,000 infield, allowed him to show off his new-found ability to read the newspaper to his Italian-only-speaking mother and his understanding of America’s game.
Most of the Deadball Era – roughly the first two decades of the last century – lives on only in rudimentary film reels today. But that era featured the game’s first superstars, including four of the first five Hall of Fame inductees. The Boston Red Sox won five of the first 16 modern World Series.
But my grandfather’s Athletics, who started a run of four pennants in five years and the World Series in 1910, 1911, and 1913, were the best team of the era.
Four future Hall of Famers spent all five seasons with the club, including great pitchers Eddie Plank and Chief Bender. The heart of the team, though, was the young infield: second baseman Eddie Collins, shortstop Jack Barry and two of the better nicknames in the history of the game, third baseman Home Run Baker and the youngest, Stuffy McInnis at first.
In a time when a good player made five or six thousand dollars a year, Connie Mack said he wouldn’t swap his quartet for $100,000.
Seeing pictures of Connie Mack managing his team in a three-piece suit with a high starched collar and prominent straw hat or bowler makes 2020 viewers think, ‘man, things were really different back then.’
Well, Connie Mack was really different in 1910 too.
Cornelius McGillicuddy, born to Irish immigrants in 1862, had a relatively undistinguished 11-year baseball career, mainly as a catcher in the National League.
Mack’s true place in baseball history began in 1901 when he became the manager, treasurer and part-owner of the American League’s Philadelphia A’s. He stayed with the club for half a century, until retiring at 87 in 1950.
He rarely raised his voice, orchestrating his players with a wave of his ever-present rolled-up scorecard while sitting serenely on the bench.
He didn’t yell, he didn’t scream, and he never left the dugout; Connie didn’t want to be distracted by going on the field from thinking about the game.
The Athletics won pennants in 1902 and 1905, but the 1910 team would be Mack’s first to win it all. In 1909 the Athletics won 95 games in brand new Shibe Park behind the emergence of a pair of left-handed-hitting infielders, Eddie Collins, and Frank Baker.
Mack’s squad earned their first championship in 1910, defeating a Cubs club – of Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance fame – that had won four out of five National League pennants. Right-hander Jack Coombs won three games, and Baker hit .409 and Collins clocked in at .429 with four stolen bases.
Collins was a two-sport star at Columbia University, starring on the diamond and as a 5-foot-9, 145-pound quarterback for a single season. But in the summer of 1906, after he had reached an agreement to sign with the Athletics was discovered to have appeared in six games under the name “Eddie Sullivan” which ended his final year of collegiate eligibility.
Although Collins was one of the game’s more educated and literate players, he was also a bundle of routines and superstitions. Getting into uniform, he always had to put his hat on first. His pants were the last addition before leaving the locker room. He refused to change his socks during a winning streak and thought it was lucky to have someone spit on his hat before the game. Collins chewed gum through the game but put it on the top of his hat when batting. If he got to two strikes, it went back in his mouth.
Off the field, he was every bit the scholarly Ivy Leaguer who postponed law school to sign with Mack. On the field, he was loud, aggressive and once broke future teammate on the 1919 Chicago White Sox Chick Gandil‘s nose on a hard tag at second base.
He became a full-time player in 1908 and broke out by hitting .347 with 63 stolen bases in 1909. In 1910 Collins made his case as one of the best all-around players in the game, stealing 81 bases to go with a .324/.382/.418 batting line to finish third in offensive WAR and first in defensive WAR in the American League.
Baker was the polar opposite of Collins; a quiet, reserved farm boy from Maryland’s Eastern Shore whose game was built on force, rather than finesse. A big man for his time at 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, he swung a 52-ounce bat as one of the premier sluggers of the day. He led the league in home runs from 1911 to 1914 with his best year coming in the one season the Athletics didn’t win the pennant in 1912, hitting .347/.404/.541 and also stole 40 bases.
Later in life when asked how he would have hit in the post -1920 game, Baker told a local newspaper, “I hit 12 home runs for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1913. And in that year I hit the right-field fence 38 times. You have got to think just about everyone as a homer with a livelier ball.”
Philadelphia repeated in 1911, defeating the New York Giants in the World Series when Baker’s then-unthinkable feat of hitting two home runs in the series earned him the nickname that he would carry with him the rest of his life. The team’s other emerging star, Jack Barry, was better known for his defensive ability, but he hit .368 with four doubles in the six games of the World Series.
Barry had also become a regular in the A’s lineup in 1909. Although just a .243 career hitter, the Holy Cross graduate was considered a money player. He was also known as one of the rare players that were able to get a $500 signing bonus out of Connie Mack before his senior season with the Crusaders. However, Mack swore him to secrecy more worried about future demands of other prospects rather than sanctions from American League president Ban Johnson.
Mack would say in later years that he believed his 1912 club, even though it finished third, was the best of the bunch because it “could hit, run and could pitch” but fell behind the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox, with Smokey Joe Wood going 34-5 while throwing 344 innings with a 1.91 ERA and Tris Speaker, one of the best players of the Deadball Era, who hit .383 with 52 doubles. The Washington Senators, with Walter Johnson having one of the best years of his storied career with a 14.1 WAR, and 34 complete games, also finished a game ahead of Philadelphia.
Still, Philadelphia won 90 games and saw the continued emergence of the youngest of the $100,000 infield, and holder of one of the greatest nicknames in baseball history, John “Stuffy” McInnis. McInnis was from Gloucester, Massachusetts and supposedly old fishermen that were boarders at his parent’s house would watch McInnis make plays and yell, “That’s the stuff, kid”.
Mack signed McInnis before he finished high school. Stuffy was in the major leagues in 1909 at 18 but Connie didn’t send him to the minor leagues, instead kept him next to him on the bench as the best way to personally supervise his development. He grew up playing shortstop, but with Collins, Barry and Baker already established the only position open for him was first base, which usually isn’t the spot one puts a 5-foot-8, right-handed hitter.
By 1911, the 20-year old McInnis had replaced former Athletics stalwart 37-year old Harry Davis and hit .321/.361/.425 and became the foundation of what was the greatest defensive infield of the era. Stuffy was one of the first to use the claw first basemen glove and is credited by many with inventing the knee stretch.
The Athletics came back in 1913 defeating the New York Giants once again in five games. Baker slashed .450/.450/.600, along with Collins, .421/.450/.632, and three steals were again the big stars. Going into the next season the public and ten-year-old Dominic Testa couldn’t see the Athletics reign ending. Baker at 27 was the oldest coming off his best season, and all four still seemed to have many more years at the top of their games.
In 1914 the White Elephants – another nickname bestowed upon them by McGraw – coasted to the pennant with Collins the MVP of the league. Their opponents, the improbable winners of the National League, the Boston Braves who were in last place on the Fourth of July before going on one of the more amazing hot streaks in baseball history to win the National League pennant.
Still, the Athletics were heavy favorites among the fans and sportswriters, but even more so within the team. As the Athletics were coasting to the pennant, Mack wanted to send his star pitcher Chief Bender to New York to scout the Braves against the Giants and was surprised when he learned that Bender didn’t go.
“What’s the use of looking at a bunch of bush leaguers?” replied Bender when asked why he didn’t go to New York.
The Braves proved to be better than Bender, and the rest of the baseball world thought, sweeping Philadelphia in four games including taking Bender out in the first in a 7-1 shellacking in Game One.
The Braves won the series in four straight games, one of the biggest upsets in World Series history.
So why did the Athletics break up?
As with most things, there are multiple answers. After the dismantling by the Braves and with the arrival of the new Federal League driving up salaries, Mack decided that he needed to get younger and could no longer afford to gamble on the former stalwarts of his pitching staff Eddie Plank, 39 and Jack Coombs, 31, both of whom missed substantial time in the previous two years with injuries. Chief Bender was considered an “old” 30. Plank and Colby had little or no value in a trade market and were given their release, and Bender signed with the Federal League.
There was also a growing rift between Collins and Mack’s most trusted lieutenant, catcher/coach Ira Thomas. Throw in the fact that the attendance was off by nearly forty percent from 1913, and the end was coming.
Mack sold off Eddie Collins to the Chicago White Sox in the offseason for $50,000, and Baker sat out the season in a contract dispute, and Barry was sold to the Red Sox in mid-season and helped Boston win the World Series. The once-mighty Athletics finished not only in dead last in the standings but only drew 146,223 fans for the season, also dead last.
McInnis stayed around until the end of the 1917 season before also moving onto Boston to join Barry and Philadelphia would remain in last place until 1922, when they finished seventh in an eight-team league.
Collins went on to have 12 more strong years with the White Sox but never reached the same heights as he did with the Mackmen. He won a World Series with Chicago in 1917 and managed the team for three years before returning to Philadelphia to end his career in 1927 at 40.
As a part-time player, he hit .336 in 289 plate appearances in what was mostly his last season. The next two years he mainly coached, with occasional appearances as a pinch-hitter. His last game was at 43 on August 5, 1930.
Collins was one of the best second basemen of all-time. According to Jaffe’s JAWS rankings, only Rogers Hornsby ranks above him. In his life Collins would go on to do many things; he finished with 3,315 hits, was the General Manager of the Boston Red Sox and signed a young Ted Williams from the minor league San Diego Padres but the high point of his career was his time with the $100,000 infield.
“Those were the golden days, those years with Stuffy, Jack and Bake,” Rick Huhn’s biography, Eddie Collins, quotes Collins when talking about his years with the Athletics. In 1950 when picking the all half-century teams many echoed New York Giant’s John McGraw‘s sentiment that Collins was the greatest second baseman of all time.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939 and was the first to pass away in 1951 from cardiovascular disease.
As with Eddie Collins, Stuffy McInnis also went on to a long career after his time with the $100,000 infield consistently being one of the best defensive first basemen in baseball along with a steady hitter at the plate. He had one final taste of glory in his 19-year career when in 1925 with the Pittsburg Pirates he hit .368 in a part-time role to help the team capture its first World Series since 1909. He was a player-manager for one year with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1927 and played one more year of minor league baseball before hanging them up in 1928.
McInnis finished with a .307 batting average, and in 8,627 career plate appearances he struck out only 251 times. As impressive as his offensive accomplishments where he was better remembered for being one of the best defensive players of his time, and maybe the first that showed the real value of how much a plus defender at that position could mean to a club.
He found success after baseball managing college baseball at Norwich University, Cornell and Harvard University. He died on February 16, 1960, at 69.
Jack Barry was part of six World Series-winning teams in his 11-year career, which ended with a knee injury in 1919 at 32, but as with Collins, the best years of his career were with Philadelphia.
It’s a hoary sport’s cliché, but Barry really was a “winner”. In high school, his teams twice won the state championship and in four years as a player at Holy Cross, the squad never had a losing record and won twenty games for the first time in the program’s history since they began playing baseball in 1876. In his 11-year professional career, he appeared in six World Series and was part of the winning team five times.
After being traded to Boston, Barry was a second baseman for the rest of his career and never again played shortstop. His best year offensively was in 1913, when he posted an OPS of .714. But as with the “winner” cliché, Barry was considered an exceptional clutch hitter. Hughey Jennings, the manager of the Detroit Tigers said, “I’d rather have Barry than any .400 hitter in the business. ..In a pinch, he hits better than anybody in our league outside of Cobb.”
One reason why he was so respected in his time was that he was an exceptional bunter. The Athletics occasionally used a double-squeeze when they had runners on second and third, scoring men from both bases. Barry was the only player in the lineup that was allowed to signal for the play on his own.
In Norman Macht’s excellent biography of Jack Barry for the Society of American Baseball Research, he explains why Barry was such an exceptional defender. He had enormous range and a very strong arm that allowed Baker to play closer to the line at third and covered up Collins’ one flaw his game, a relatively weak arm. An interesting trick he used to make sure the ball stuck in his small glove was to cut across clear through the palm of his glove so the sweat from his hand would help him grip the ball.
After a year trying to sell cars, Barry returned to his alma mater Holy Cross and was the head coach there for the next 40 years until his death in 1961. His .807 winning percentage with the Crusaders was the second-best of any coach with more than ten coaching seasons and in 2007 was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1952 he led Holy Cross to their only national championship.
According to Connie Mack, and Cubs’ manager Frank Chance, his opponent in the 1910 World Series, Barry was the best defensive shortstop they ever saw. Barry passed away on April 23, 1961, from lung cancer, three days before his 74th birthday.
Frank Baker nearly retired twice in his career. The first time after the 1914 season when Mack refused to renegotiate a three-year contract which called for him to be paid at $8,000 per annum in its last season. After sitting out the 1915 season, he was sold to the New York Yankees before the season in 1916 for $37,500, and although he was a good player, he never was the same one as he was in Philadelphia. In seven years with the Athletics, he hit .321/.471/.845 and in six with the Yankees he was at .288/.347/.444.
In 1920 an outbreak of Scarlet Fever on the Eastern Shore took the life of his wife and his two daughters nearly died. His daughters recovered, but Baker decided that he was in no shape to play the 1920 season or even sure if he wanted to play baseball again.
He did come back for two final years, before retiring for good in 1923 at 36. He managed the local minor league for a couple of years, but never strayed far from his native Eastern Shore town of Trappe, Maryland – the farm had been in his family for six generations – where he was a member of the town’s volunteer fire department and the local tax collector.
He died on June 28, 1963, at 77 and outlived his contemporaries.
Collins was the first to make the Hall of Fame in 1939, followed by Eddie Plank in 1946. Chief Bender was elected to Cooperstown in 1953 but passed away before the induction ceremony.
In the early 1950s, partially as a product of a letter-writing campaign by Maryland sportswriters, Baker was the last of the 1910 to 1914 Athletics elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee. In late January of 1955, Baker got the good news.
It had been 32 years since he last played in the major leagues, but Baker was happy that someone still remembered the feared slugger who once anchored the great dynasty.
“I heard a fella say that it’s better to get a rosebud when he’s alive than to have a whole rose garden when he’s gone,” the nearly 70-year-old Baker said to his local newspaper upon hearing the news.
“It looks like they have thrown roses while I’m still here.”
My Grandfather ended up beating the Athletics out to California, leaving in 1946 without having to make a pitstop in Kansas City. He remained an A’s fan for the rest of his 90-plus years. Despite the profound changes in the country, the game and even the wild uniforms of the 1970s, the team of his youth was the team of his life.
Adler, Richard, Mack, McGraw and the 1913 Baseball Season, (Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland & Company, 2008).
Bressler, Richard, The Cubs and the A’s of 1910: One Dynasty Ends, Another Begins, (Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland & Company, 2016).
Brown, Edward R., That’s the Stuff, Kid: The Life And Times of Baseball Legend Stuffy McInnis (Beverley, Massachusetts; Beverly Historical Society Publication, 2010).
Freedman, Lew, Connie Mack’s First Dynasty: The Philadelphia Athletics, 1910-1914, (Jefferson, North Carolina; McFarland & Company, 2017).
Holaday, Chris and Marshall Adesman, The 25 Greatest Baseball Teams of the 20th Century Ranked, (Jefferson, North Carolina; McFarland & Company, 2000).
Huhn, Rick, Eddie Collins: A Baseball Biography, (Jefferson, North Carolina; McFarland & Company, 2008).
James, Bill, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (New York; Potomac Books, Inc, 2003).
Jones, David, Deadball Stars of the American League, (Potomac Books Inc.: Dulles, Virginia; 2006)
Jordan, David, M. The Athletics of Philadelphia: Connie Mack’s White Elephants, 1901-1954, (Jefferson, North Carolina; McFarland & Company, 1999).
Kashatus, William C., Money Pitcher: Chief Bender and the Tragedy of Indian Assimilation, (University Park, PA; Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006).
Kashatus, William C., The Philadelphia Athletics, (Charleston, SC; Arcadia, 2002).
Knorr, Lawrence, Gettysburg Eddie: The Story of Eddie Plank, (Mechanicsburg, PA, Sunbury Press, 2018)
Macht, Norman, L., Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007).
Murphy, Cait, Crazy ’08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History, (New York; Harper Collins, 2007).
Sparks, Barry, Frank “Home Run” Baker: Hall of Famer and World Series Hero, (Jefferson, North Carolina; McFarland & Company, 2006).
Steinberg, Steve, The World Series in the Deadball Era, (Haworth, New Jersey; St. John’s Press, 2018).
Swift, Tom, Chief Bender’s Burden: The Silent Struggle of a Baseball Star, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008).
Also, Philadelphia Athletics World Series programs from 1910, 1911, 1913 and 1914.