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Legends On Deck

McGraw vs Foster, A Battle of Giants: 1905 NY Giants vs 1914 American Giants

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Each era of baseball has its iconic figures, who have their place in history cemented by what they have done. In Major League Baseball during the “Deadball Era” one of those people was New York Giants manager and former player John J “Mugsy” McGraw. McGraw began his career as a member of the Baltimore Orioles in the 1890’s. He was a ballplayer who stopped at nothing to gain a win on the playing field. Tripping a runner as he rounded the bases, grabbing the runner by the belt as he ran by and other chicanery were all in McGraw’s bag of tricks. He later on as a manager pioneered the term manufacturing a run and would also manage the Giants to 3 World Series titles (1905,1921 and 1922). In black baseball one of those iconic figures was Andrew Bishop “Rube” Foster who later started one of the first ever sanctioned leagues for black ball players. Foster has been called by many, “the Father of the Negro Leagues” because of his efforts to unite the ball clubs to give them more credibility. Sadly, after all he did, he would not live to see blacks and whites play together in the major leagues as he passed away in 1930 in an insane asylum. He mentored a number of players along the way as did McGraw and like McGraw wanted his players to know the fundamentals of the game such as bunting and running the bases. Some of those mentored and taught by Foster included Cristobal Torriente, Norman “Turkey” Stearnes, Preston “Pete” Hill, Oscar Charleston and Bill Foster, who was Rube’s half-brother.

McGraw’s Giants team in 1905 would win 105 games and lose 48 to win the National League pennant by 9 games over the second place Pittsburgh Pirates. The 1914 Chicago American Giants had an official record of 42 wins and 14 losses in the Western Independent League but were reported to have won almost as many games as McGraw’s Giants, but due to the lack of records this cannot be confirmed. This was certainly shaping up to be a great matchup.

The 1905 Giants would send up catcher Roger Bresnahan, first baseman Dan McGann and second baseman Billy Gilbert. The left side of the NY Giants infield would have Bill Dahlen at shortstop and at third base would be Art Devlin. For the Giants Mike Donlin, George Browne and Sam Mertes would patrol that expanse of green. The pitchers McGraw would have to choose from would include, Christy Mathewson, “Iron Man” Joe McGinnity, Red Ames, Dummy Taylor and “Hooks” Wiltse.

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Foster’s 1914 Giants would have Pete Booker catching, Jesse Barber at first base and Bill Monroe at second base. The American Giants left side of the infield would have John Henry “Pop” Lloyd at shortstop and Bill Francis at the third base. The American Giants outfield was Judy Gans, Pete Hill and Frank Duncan. The pitchers that Rube Foster could choose from besides himself were Frank Wickwire, Lee Wade and Horace Jenkins.

Catcher Roger Bresnahan did not have a home run in 1905 and had 46 runs batted in to go with his .302 batting average. He would make 19 errors in 637 chances for a .970 fielding percentage which is not bad for the era. Bresnahan would later, in 1905 be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee.

For the Chicago American Giants, their catcher would be Pete Booker. He was an outstanding catcher who would later develop into a first baseman after Bruce Petway joined the Chicago American Giants. He had good power, could hit for average and would end up playing with most of the great black teams of the error.

While it looks like Booker was an outstanding catcher, the nod might go to the Giants and Bresnahan. It would be close however and either of these men would be a good choice.

In 136 games for the New York Giants first baseman Dan McGann would hit 5 home runs and have 75 runs batted in, with a .299 batting average. In the field in 1,350 chances in the field he made 13 errors which computes to a .991 fielding average, very good for the era of play.

Jesse Barber played first base for the Chicago American Giants during the 1914 season.  He started as an outfielder and was very fast which led to a lot of infield hits. He was a great base stealer and very versatile on defense. He was a shortstop until John Henry “Pop” Lloyd came to the team and then Barber moved to first base. Advantage here goes to Jesse Barber of the Chicago American Giants.

Image Source: Wikipedia

The second baseman for the NY Giants during the 1905 campaign was Billy Gilbert. Gilbert in 115 games had no home runs 24 runs batted in and a .247 batting average. As a fielder during the championship year, Gilbert made 34 errors in 646 chances for a .947 fielding percentage. The second baseman for the Chicago American Giants in 1914 was Bill Monroe who had a career in black baseball from 1896 until 1914.

Monroe was one of the first great black baseball players and was a very adept fielder with good hands. He also had great speed and could play anywhere with grace. He was a crowd favorite and a showman. “Iron Man” Joe McGinnity was paid $500 to pitch against Monroe’s tea, Monroe came to bat and aimed his bat at McGinnity like a rifle. McGinnity proceeded to knock Monroe down with the next 2 pitches. Monroe got up and bet McGinnity $500 he would hit a home run. The pitcher threw a fastball and Monroe was $500 richer. Monroe, ever the showman then ran the bases backwards. With Foster’s club, he would bat fourth in the cleanup position to show how valuable he was. John McGraw himself stated Monroe was the greatest ever and would have been a star in the major league. That itself is a ringing endorsement to how good Monroe was and it clearly gives the advantage here to Monroe and the Chicago American Giants.

At the all-important shortstop position for the Giants was Bill “Bad Bill” Dahlen, a man who was ejected 65 times by umpires during his playing and managing career. The name overshadowed his contributions to baseball and he was regarded as over-looked and under-appreciated as a player. As a player during the 1905 season he would he 7 home runs with 81 runs batted in and a .242 batting average. He made 45 errors in 860 chances for a .948 fielding average. Normally these numbers would be enough to give the advantage to Dahlen and the Giants. However, not in this case as you will see.

Image Source: Baseball Hall of Fame

John Henry “Pop” Lloyd was one of the legendary players in black baseball history. Lloyd had a career that lasted from 1906 to 1932. He may have been the greatest shortstop of that era and that includes the Pirate great, Honus Wagner. He was nicknamed “El Cuchara” Spanish for tablespoon for the way he would routinely scoop up ground balls and throw the runner out. Lloyd fit well into the style of play favored by Foster as he was an exceptional base runner and bunter. He had good bat control as well as being an expert in the hit and run play. According the statistics available, Lloyd’s batting average was in the .365-.370 area. Babe Ruth stated Lloyd was the greatest player of all-time and Lloyd was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1977. Advantage Lloyd and the Chicago American Giants.

For the 3rd base position for the NY Giants of 1905 it would be the 25-year-old Art Devlin who in 1905 hit 2 home runs and drove in 61 runs while carrying a .246 batting average. With the glove on at the hot corner Devlin, made 33 errors in 448 chances for a .931 fielding percentage. As for the Chicago American Giants, the 3rd baseman was William “Ducky” or “the Little Corporal” Francis. He was considered the best 3rd baseman of the first 2 decades of the 1900’s. He was a man who had good hands, wide range and who will on offense could hit as well as run. A comparison in a more modern era would be Eddie Stanky or Ron Hunt. He would bat 5th or 6th in the lineup except when he was with the Lincoln Giants when he would bat in the number 2-hole behind the great Spotswood Poles. He could also play the shortstop position if necessary. Again, with the lack of yearly statistics it is a little difficult to compare however with what has been found out advantage here is with the Chicago American Giants and Francis.

The New York Giants 1905 outfield would consist of Mike Donlin, George Browne and Sam Mertes. Donlin would hit 7 home runs, have 80 runs batted in and carry a .356 batting average. In the field, he would make 19 errors in 286 chances for a .934 fielding percentage. Browne would hit 4 home runs, have 43 runs batted in and a .293 batting average. As for his fielding statistics, Browne made 17 errors in 201 chances for a fielding percentage of .915 for the season. Mertes would hit 5 home runs and have 108 runs batted in to go with a .279 batting average. Mertes would have 250 chances in the field and make just 10 errors for a .960 fielding percentage.

The Chicago American Giants outfield in 1914 would consist of Judy Gans, Preston “Pete” Hill and Frank Duncan. Robert E “Judy” Gans was a good all-around player who could hit and field and was a good baserunner. He was a good outfielder and was a former football star who also managed and umpired. Hill could hit for both average and power and used the entire field when he was at the plate. In 1911, he hit safely in 115 of 116 games and was compared to Ty Cobb. He was a complete player and could field and run the bases as well as he could hit. As a baserunner, he was fast and a great base stealer. He was a lot like Jackie Robinson the way he would upset pitchers while he was running the bases. He was a good for the younger players later on in his career. Even late in his career he remained a dangerous hitter, who would end his career with a .326 batting average with the records available. Cum Posey thought Hill to be the most consistent hitter he had seen and Hill added to his accolades when in 2006 he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The final outfielder for the Chicago American Giants was Frank Duncan. Duncan was not a fast baserunner, but when he did run it was with reckless abandon. He would play well with the style of play favored by Foster and when he moved there was no wasted motion.

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Like other forays into the learning about and researching of the black baseball player the lack of available information sometimes makes for an uneasy decision. However here because of the field leadership and good play, the advantage would go to the Chicago American Giants outfielders with no second thoughts taken.

Finally, the last position to be discussed is the pitching rotations for the two teams. First the New York Giants rotation. Leading the way is Christy Mathewson who finished the 1905 season with a record of 31 wins and 9 losses, a 1.28 ERA and 206 strikeouts. The next pitcher is “Iron Man” Joe McGinnity, finishing the 1905 season with a record of 21 wins 15 losses, a 2.87 ERA and 125 strikeouts. The third choice would be Red Ames with a record of 22 wins and 8 losses, a 2.74 ERA and 198 strikeouts. The Chicago American Giants pitching would only have 3 choices with the first choice being Andrew “Rube” Foster. Many thought of Foster as the father of the Negro Leagues but in reality what some forget is that Foster was a pretty good pitcher in his day. In 1902 Foster was credited with 51 wins, with one of those wins over future Hall of Famer Rube Waddell. He was a smart hurler with a very effective screwball. In 1903 his record was reportedly 54 wins, 1 loss with 4 playoff wins over the Philadelphia Giants. In 1905, he reportedly won 51 of 55 games and led the Philadelphia Giants to two more championships in 1905 and 1906. Foster would be the American Giants choice for the one game playoff. Charles “Pat” or “the Black Marquard” could be the second choice who was a star left-handed pitcher during his career. The third and final choice for pitchers for the American Giants would be Frank Wickware who was also known as “Rawhide” or “the Red Ant”. Wickware, who hailed from the same hometown as Walter Johnson (Coffeyville Kansas) was a right-handed pitcher with a blazing fastball, much like the “Big Train”. As a young man, he was noted for the velocity with which he threw and would post a record of 18-1 in 1910. He was a big gate attraction and was in great demand by all teams.

Obviously, the NY Giants choice in this one game playoff would be Christy Mathewson. For the 31 wins of course, but also for the fact that in the 1905 World Series he would pitch 3 complete game shutouts in 6 days to help the Giants clinch the World Series title. As for the American , the choice could be Foster or perhaps even Wickware but given Mathewson’s 1905 season, the New York Giants would have the advantage on the mound, and what an advantage it would be. Because of Mathewson the Giants would win a one game playoff and advance. But this would be a great game regardless.

Kevin Larkin

Kevin Larkin has been going to minor league and major league baseball games since 1967. He has been to numerous major league and minor league parks and describes himself as a "baseball fan" who likes the Yankees. He enjoys researching, writing and reading about about baseball and will talk for hours on end about his favorite sport.
He is in love with the history of the game, having written three books about his beloved sport. They are "Baseball in the Bay State" a history of baseball in the state of Massachusetts. Then he wrote Gehrig:Game by Game, a history of all of the major league ballgames including All Star games and World Series games as well as regular season that the "Iron Horse" Lou Gehrig played in. The third book "Baseball in the Berkshires" a history of baseball in Berkshire County co written with three others, Tom Daley, Jim Overmyer and Larry Moore. As a result of this book Larkin and the other three gentlemen have put together a museum exhibit that is now permanently housed at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesboro Massachusetts.
Larkin also does fact checking and writing for the Society for American Baseball Research or SABR and has had numerous articles published there as well.
He lives in Great Barrington Massachusetts, in the heart of Red Sox country and is involved in a number of projects. He also is a security guard at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington after having been a police officer for 24 years in his home town