Let’s Talk Deadball Era by Ken Wenger

Author: Ken Wenger

Let’s talk Deadball Era seasons.

During the second half of 1997, Strat-O-Matic released five Deadball Era seasons—1906, 1908, 1912, 1916, and 1919. Although the computer “cards” for the players are computer-generated and these releases are considered “Chevy” seasons, there was a level of research put into the creation of these seasons that goes beyond that of the other “Chevy” seasons. It is possible that, at some point, Strat-O-Matic will release a super-advanced version of the 1919 season (and no, I don’t have any inside information); however, there seems little chance that the earlier seasons will be released in super-advance format.

Consider the following description of the deadball game from David W. Anderson’s More than Merkle: A History of the Best and Most Exciting Baseball Season in Human History (University of Nebraska Press, 2000, pp.23-24).
“Inside Baseball involves what fans today would term manufactured runs, a game in which every ninety feet mattered and every edge was exploited to gain victory. Team play, rather than individual effort, was stressed. . . . The Inside game featured frequent bunting for sacrifices and base hits, wearing down pitchers by fouling off pitches, forcing the defense to make plays by having base runners take extra bases, by delayed and double steals, bluff bunts, hit-and-run and bunt-and-run plays, and by any other means of gaining the advantage. . . . This style of baseball meant that every base runner was precious, and each and every advance on the base paths was valuable. . . . the frequent use of the bunt as a strategic ploy placed special emphasis on the defensive abilities of players at the corners.”

If you have a man on first base with two outs and your next two batters are .250 hitters lacking extra-base power, your chance of scoring the runner by relying strictly on singles is .125. This makes a steal attempt with a lower chance than you might normally consider a viable option to advance the runner to second so you only need one single to score a run.

Researched transaction files for these seasons will be included with Strat-O-Matic Baseball 2022. “The Sporting News” and “The Sporting Life” have been searched for information about transactions and injuries during these seasons. The Baseball Register and Retrosheet sites were sources of additional information. (It should be noted that exact information was lacking for most transactions among major league teams, as well as for promotions/demotions involving minor league teams. It was generally assumed that roster changes were made at the beginning or ending of a road trip and should be accurate within a few days.) For example, here are some lines from the start of the 1908 American League’s transaction file.

04/15 EW197P D DEA (non-DL) Willett was sidelined over a month due to a sprained ankle.
04/15 RO434B D PHA (non-DL) Oldring, still suffering the effects of malaria, played on opening day, but then missed a week. The Sporting Life says that he wasn’t in the best of shape.
04/15 JP256P D SLA (non-DL) Pelty missed 2 starts due to a sore arm.
04/21 RO434B U PHA (non-DL) Oldring returned to action on April 22.
04/21 DA294B U WAA (non-DL) Altizer made his first appearance as a defensive replacement on April 22.
04/23 OP373B D WAA (non-DL) Pickering was sidelined 4 days after being hit in the head by a pitch.
04/25 FG032P D NYA (non-DL) Glade had a start pushed back. His arm became “useless” after pitching extra innings against PHA.

Having these transaction files will give you the chance to replay these seasons much closer to how they actually unfolded than has been possible previously. IT SHOULD BE EMPHASIZED THAT THOSE WHO HAVE ALREADY THESE SEASONS WILL HAVE ACCESS TO THE IMPROVENTS THAT HAVE BEEN MADE—PROVIDED, OF COURSE, THAT YOU HAVE VERSION 2022.

Doing research on these five seasons has given me a much greater respect for them. No, they don’t have the level of research underlying them that go into the super-advanced seasons, but they play realistically and provide the feel of baseball in that era. For those desiring to play games from this era—at least on the computer–we already have that opportunity.

Ken Fricke, Buck Jones, and Ken Wenger did the work of creating and testing the new transaction files for the five Deadball Era seasons.

Let’s examine what these seasons offer.

The World Series matched the two Chicago teams. (Many of you will remember the 1906 Cubs and their 116-36 record from the Oldtimer Teams released over 60 years ago.) The Cubs were heavily favored, but the ”Hitless Wonders” of the White Sox won the Series in 6 games. The White Sox hit just .198 during the Series and made 15 errors.

Johnny Evers, the Cub’s secondbaseman, wrote this description of the White Sox. “The team excelled any team ever organized in concentrating every move toward making runs, one at a time, and while nearly weakest in batting, scored the greatest average number of runs per hit of any club in the history of the game” (John J. Evers & Hugh Fullerton, Touching Second: The Science of Baseball, Chicago: Reilly and Britton, 1910, p. 160).

From time to time, there is discussion on the Forum about the close races in both leagues ( 3 teams within 1.5 games of first place in each league) and the desire to be able to replay this season. Maybe we already have a very playable version of the season.

It is hard to overstate the role that injuries played in disrupting the lineups of several of the pennant contenders. The Tigers, Indians, and Cubs were hit particularly hard, with the Tigers and Indians at times scrambling to piece together stable infields.

Ed Walsh (CHA) won 40 games and pitched 464 innings in 1908. He made 49 starts, 42 of which were complete games. His record was 40-15, along with an ERA of 1.42. He struck out 269 batters, while walking 56 batters. In his 17 relief appearances, his record was 5-1 and he had 6 saves. He was a spitball pitcher (throwing it an estimated 90% of the time), but also threw a fastball and a curve (https://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/walsh-ed); (https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/big-ed-walsh/#:~:text=His%20finest%20season%20came%20in,White%20Sox%20hoisted%20upon%20him.).
–Commenting on Ed Walsh’s spit ball, Sam Crawford said, “Big Ed Walsh. Great big, strong, good-looking fellow. He threw a spitball. I think that ball disintegrated on the way to the plate, and the catcher put it back together again. I swear, when it went past the plate, it was just the spit went by” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_Walsh).

One of the most memorable games ever played in the heat of a pennant race occurred on October 2, 1908. At the beginning of the day’s action, DEA (87-61) led CLA (87-62) by 1/2 game. CHA (85-62) was still in contention, 1 1/2 games behind DEA. Addie Joss pitched a perfect game, defeating CHA by a score of 1-0. CLA only had 4 hits in the game and scored the winning run in the bottom of the 3rd inning. Losing pitcher Ed Walsh struck out 15 batters in 8 innings. The only run of the game scored on a two-out, third strike pitch to Wilbur Good–a wild pitch that eluded catcher Osee Schrecongost (https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/october-2-1908-addie-joss-outduels-ed-walsh-throws-perfect-game/; https://retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1908/B10020CLE1908.htm).

The National League pennant was decided on October 8 when CHN defeated NYN, 4-2, in the makeup of the “Merkle” game.
–The “Merkle Game” was played between CHN and NYN on September 23. With the game tied, 1-1, and runners on first and third with 2 out in the bottom of the 9th, Al Bridwell (NYN) hit an apparent game-winning single. Moose McCormick (NYN) scored from third. Fred Merkle, who was on first base, saw fans swarming onto the field and did not complete the run to second base. The ball was retrieved and thrown to Johnny Evers (CHN), who claimed that Fred Merkle was forced out at second base. Merkle was ruled out, so the game remained tied–it was impossible to continue due to the inability to clear the field as darkness approached.
–CHN and NYN were tied after the completion of 153 games, so the tied game needed to be replayed to determine the pennant. CHN won the replay of the “Merkle Game” by a 4-2 score and won the NL pennant.

NYN team doctor Joseph Creamer attempted to bribe the umpires prior to the October 8 game between CHN and NYN. He offered the umpires $1500 to “throw” the game to NYN. Creamer’s punishment would be a lifetime ban from baseball. Cait N. Murphy in Crazy 08 states that there is a redacted document which, due to a sloppy job of blotting out the names, suggests the source of the $1500 attempted bribe. The names on the document are John McGraw, Roger Bresnahan, and Christy Mathewson. Murphy speculates that these men might not have had qualms about bribing the umpires because they felt that they had already fairly won the game played on September 23.

The Cubs went on to defeat the Tigers in a 5-game series.

Neither league had a close pennant race—the Red Sox won the AL by 14 games; the Giants won the NL by 10 games.

There were some outstanding pitching performances in 1912.
–Joe Wood (BOA) had a record of 34-5, with an ERA of 1.91. He tied Walter Johnson’s record with victories in 16 consecutive decisions.
–Walter Johnson’s record for the season was 33-12, with an ERA of 1.39. He led both leagues with 303 strikeouts. Johnson also won 16 consecutive decisions from July 3 to August 23. On September 6, Wood and Johnson faced each other. Wood had won 13 straight, so Johnson could have stopped the streak. Wood outdueled Johnson, winning 1-0.
–Rube Marquard (NYN) won 19 consecutive decisions. He gained wins in 15 straight appearances. His record for the season was 26-11, with an ERA of 2.57.
–Ed Walsh (CHA) pitched in 62 games, 41 of which were starts. His record was 27-17, with an ERA of 2.15. Although saves were not a statistic in 1912, he would have had 10 saves. Walsh is a good example of a common strategy in this era–use your best pitcher when the game is on the line.

The Boston Red Sox defeated the New York Giants in the World Series by a margin of 4 games to 3, with 1 game ending in a tie.

For those clamoring for a Babe Ruth pitching card, this season gives you the best chance for that experience. Ruth’s record was 23-12, with an ERA of 1.75. He was the ace of the pennant-winning Boston Red Sox.

There were close pennant races, with 3 teams within 4 games of first place in in both leagues. The Red Sox and Brooklyn Robins won the pennants by margins of 2 and 2½ games, respectively. Boston traded Tris Speaker to Cleveland just prior to the start of the season and had trouble finding a replacement. Speaker led the league with a batting average of .386.

An interesting aspect of this season was the influx of talent from the defunct Federal League. (Many of you know that the Federal League operated in 1914-15.) Some of the former Federal League players did well on their new teams, but others failed to live up to the hopes of the teams who acquired them.

The Giants won 26 consecutive games from September 7 through the first game of a doubleheader on September 30. The team’s record as it entered the winning streak was 59-62. The streak occurred during a 35-game home stand (https://joeposnanski.substack.com/p/the-1916-giants-winning-streak).

The Philadelphia Athletics fielded non-competitive teams in 1916 and 1919. Connie Mack broke up his great team following its defeat by the “Miracle Braves” in the 1914 World Series. In the following years, Mack used an approach of signing many players in hopes that there would be some quality amongst the quantity. The Athletics would see a lot of players come and go during these seasons.

Boston defeated Brooklyn in a 5-game series.

This season is remembered for the Black Sox Scandal in the World Series. It is also an interesting season because it followed the end of World War I. Some players were unavailable due to military service, including some still in France, as the season began. Rosters were strengthened by adding these players as they returned from military duty and were able to get into playing condition. Due to the impact of readjusting to normal operations following World War I, the season consisted of 140 games for each team.

Although some may question the legitimacy of Cincinnati’s World Series victory, the Reds actually had a very good team—they won 8 more games than the White Sox during the regular season and captured the NL pennant by 9 games. The White Sox struggled to win the AL pennant and finished 3.5 games ahead of the second-place Indians.

There was a meeting between Babe Ruth (BOA) and manager Ed Barrow in early July, during which it was agreed that henceforth Ruth would be considered primarily an outfielder. Previously, Ruth was taking regular starts as a pitcher and played in the outfield when he was not pitching—it was found that this did not give Ruth adequate rest for pitching. Ruth might still be asked to pitch at times, particularly when the pitching staff was exhausted. Ruth hit 29 homeruns and had 114 RBI. He would be sold to the Yankees during the offseason.

The World Series was scheduled to have a maximum of 9 games. Cincinnati won 5 games, while the White Sox won 3 games.

Ken Wenger

One Reply to “Let’s Talk Deadball Era by Ken Wenger”

  1. James says:

    Wow! What a great article!! Thanks Ken !

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