The Cardinals In Time: Bad Baseball And Rigging A Batting Title

During the offseason I will be taking a look at the past, giving readers a timeline of St. Louis baseball throughout history. After a couple weeks off we will pick up again in the year 1905. Last time we learned about new looks in the new century.

The Cardinals of the early 1900’s were downright awful. The first five years were not great, and the next five were no better. The standings can tell the brief and painful story:

Year

NL Finish (8 teams)

Record

1905

6th

58-96

1906

7th

52-98

1907

8th

52-101

1908

8th

49-105

1909

7th

54-98

1910

7th

63-90

1908 was spectacularly terrible for the Cardinals. They ranked last in runs scored (371), runs allowed (626) and errors committed (348 – infielder Chappy Charles added 49 of them all on his own). They were shut out 33 times. Three regular position players batted below .200 on the season. Only three players had more than 20 RBI’s on the year, and the club set a franchise record with 105 losses. The good news is that the team has never been as bad as 1908 before or since that year. Coincidentally, the Cubs have not won the World Series since 1908. Okay, maybe that is not a coincidence after all…

Some noteworthy players such as Roger Bresnahan, Ed Konetchy, Miller Huggins and Slim Sallee all came into town in those years, but their contributions to the club became much more apparent in the next decade, so we will wait a week to examine them further.

Perhaps the more exciting baseball was coming from the other side of town with the Browns at the ‘new’ Sportsman’s Park. The fans made it memorable, enjoying what many would consider a riot on a regular basis, to the point where regular attendees considered the out of control behavior “just part of Sunday afternoon at Grand and Dodier.” Their favorite pastime involved fashioning ‘brew bombs’ by pouring beer in a peanut bag and hurling it many rows down on to an unsuspecting straw hat. Direct hits almost caused more of a ruckus than great baseball plays, but as long as the fans kept coming back no one from the front office said a word.

Eventually, owner Robert Lee Hedges started to speak up. He wanted to legitimize the team, especially since they were competing for respect with the crosstown Cardinals. He ran most of the ruffians out, brought in more businessmen as fans and started the inaugural ‘Ladies Day,’ in which women were allowed in for merely the price of sales tax. After luring future Hall of Famers Jesse Burkett and Bobby Wallace from the Cardinals and Joe Sugden from the White Sox, Hedges was well on his way, and the Browns were beginning to turn a profit again.

Due to the sudden turnaround and profit, Sportsman’s Park saw some upgrades. After 1908 the park received the first concrete grandstand (thereby preventing another fire like the one the Browns suffered in 1898). Much of the profit was thanks to the rubber arm of Hall of Famer Rube Waddell.

Rube Waddell

Waddell was a man of many pitches, although his fast curve and his extremely fast fastball were the two that everyone took note of. Most of his successful years were found with the Philadelphia Athletics, where he posted his most jaw-dropping numbers (including an astounding 349 strikeouts in 1904). Waddell was so confident in his ability to strike out batters that he often pulled stunts such as having his outfielders sit down or coming out on the field with only his catcher, and the stunts only backfired once. While pitching an exhibition game in Memphis, Waddell pitched the last three innings with just his catcher, but after a dropped third strike and two bloop hits that landed over his head, the exhausted pitcher had to bear down and strike out the next batter so he could avoid the embarrassment of having his fielders come out to help him finish off the inning.

Unfortunately, Rube’s less than stellar personal life caused him to burn many bridges with his teammates in Philly, and he was sent packing to St. Louis after the 1907 season. He still had some gas left in the tank after arriving in St. Louis, fanning 248 batters and leading the Browns to their best finish (4th place) since coming back to town. He was an absolute nutjob to say the least, with many players recounting tales of seeing Waddell in a saloon while on their way to the ballpark then being shocked that he could still strike them out while completely drunk.

After a frustrating game in which batters were knocking him all over the ballpark, Rube gave up a gopher ball that got him so turned around from having to spin in circles watching batters race around the bases the sauces pitcher fell over and could not figure out how to stand up again. Manager Jack O’Connor tried to pull Waddell from the game, but it would probably be more accurate to say that O’Connor dragged him off the mound. Hedges was so enraged with the madness of the once dominant pitcher that he released him from his contract in 1910, and Waddell never pitched in the majors again. It was an unfortunate end to what could have been an even more incredible career.

Jack O'Connor

O’Connor himself found his ticket out of St. Louis at the end of the 1910 year, all based on what he did on the last day of the season. Larry ‘Nap’ Lajoie of the Cleveland Naps was hitting .372 and Ty Cobb of the Detroit Tigers was hitting .380. Cleveland was in St. Louis playing a doubleheader, and Cobb was reportedly going to take the day off. The winner of the batting title would receive a Chalmers 30, one of the most expensive cars on the market in that day. It was obvious that there were a lot of handshakes under the table before the games started in St. Louis that day, as Lajoie laid down five straight bunts up the third base line and made it to first every time. How could this happen?

John ‘Red’ Corriden, the Browns third baseman, was inexplicably playing in short left field every time Lajoie came up to bat. Fielding bunts from left field is rather tiresome, and Corriden was exhausted from having to chase them down. The fifth bunt was bobbled, and the official scorer correctly scored the bunt an error. Despite appeals from the Browns pitcher, both managers and the entire Cleveland team, the ruling was not changed, and Lajoie fell just short of the batting title.

Ban Johnson, president of the American League, was enraged with the obvious tampering of the game, and ordered Robert Hedges to fire both O’Connor and coach Harry Howell, who were then both informally banned from baseball for life.

Next week a story about a train crash and the beginnings of Branch Rickey’s career in St. Louis.

Angela Weinhold covers the Cardinals for i70baseball.com, BaseballDigest.com and writes at Cardinal Diamond Diaries. You may follow her on Twitter here or follow Cardinal Diamond Diaries here.

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