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1924 Senators and 1931 Cardinals: Big Train vs the Pre-Gas House Gang

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Perhaps the greatest pitcher of the Dead Ball Era and possibly the greatest of all-time was “the Big Train” Walter Johnson. His numbers made with some especially bad teams were not short of phenomenal. 110 shutouts, first pitcher with over 3,000 strikeouts, 2nd place on the all-time wins list are just some of his mound accomplishments. He would finally make it to the World Series in 1924 as he would lead the Senators to their first ever World Series title in 1924 when they defeated the New York Giants 4 games to 3 in an exciting 7 game series, in which Johnson was the winning pitcher in game 7.

The 1931 St Louis Cardinals had defeated the Connie Mack led Philadelphia Athletics in a 7-game series with the that A’s team thought to be one of the best of all-time as well with stars like Lefty Grove, Jimmy Foxx and Al Simmons leading the way. This was a pre “Gas House Gang” team, and the base for one of the 1930’s better teams.

The Senators were managed by Stanley Raymond Harris better known as “Bucky” their 27-year-old second baseman in his first year as Washington’s player manager. Harris would manage in the major leagues for a total of 29 years winning a total of 2,158 games, 3 pennants and 2 World Series titles (1924 Senators and the 1947 Yankees). The Cardinals would be managed by Charles Evard “Gabby” Street. Street would manage the 1929 Cardinals, 1930-1933 Cardinals and the 1938 Cardinals, winning a  total of 2 National League pennants as well as the 1931 World title.

Harris, as the Senators skipper would have the following players in the lineup for this one game match-up against St Louis. Catching would be Muddy Ruel and at first base was Joe Judge. Harris would be the second baseman and his partner at shortstop would be Roger Peckinpaugh with Ossie Bluege rounding out the infield. In the Senators outfield would be Goose Goslin, Nemo Lebold and Sam Rice. Besides having Walter Johnson, Harris could choose from George Mogridge, Tom Zachary, with closer Firpo Marberry waiting to save the game for the Washington 9.

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Street would pencil these players in on his lineup card for this match-up. Jimmie Wilson would be doing the catching with Jim Bottomley playing first base. Second base would be Frankie Frisch and r Gelbert would be the shortstop. Rounding out the infield would be 3rd baseman Sparky Adams. The three men in the outfield would be George Watkins, Chick Hafey and Pepper Martin. Street would have these men to choose from to try to help them advance to the next round. It was a veteran pitching staff led by 37-year old’s Burleigh Grimes and Jesse Haines. The youngsters of the staff would be Bill Hallahan, Paul Derringer, Flint Rhem and Syl Johnson.

In the managerial match, while you the players, you also need to have a grip on the game of baseball and the strategy involved, in this case to be 27 years old and manage a team to a World Series title in your first year as manager certainly is a feather in one’s cap. Just based on that alone the nod for the advantage at the top is with Harris and the Senators.

Catching for the 1924 Senators will be Harold “Muddy” Ruel who in 1924 did not hit a home run, but had 57 runs batted in to go along with a .283 batting average. Behind the plate Ruel made 15 errors in 739 chances for a .980 fielding percentage. The Redbird’s catcher would be Jimmie Wilson who did not hit a home run in 1931 but had 51 runs batted in to go with a .274 batting average. When Wilson was behind the plate in 1931 he made 9 errors in 582 chances for a .985 fielding percentage. The catcher gets to see every play develop on the field and is one of the game’s more important players. He is the eyes of the manager. Offensively these 2 men are close and on defense as well. This one is in fact to close to call as it does not look like one team has a decided advantage over the other.

Joe Judge was the first baseman on the Senators of 1924 and hit for a .379 average with 3 home runs and 79 RBIs in 140 games for Washington. He was a pretty good fielder as well, and in 1924 made only 8 errors in 1,370 chances for a .994 fielding percentage. An under rated player of the era he was dependable at both the bat and in the field. The 1928 National League MVP Jim Bottomley was the first baseman for the 1931 Cardinals and during the season would hit 9 HRs, have 75 RBIs and a .348 batting average during the late 1920’s he would lead the league in hits (1925-227,doubles 44),(1926-40 doubles,120 RBIs) and in 1928 he led the league in (triples-20,HRs 31 and RBIs 136). With him in the field he made 12 errors in 952 chances for a.987 fielding percentage. Bottomley was later selected for induction into the Hall of Fame. Another close one here but the edge as ever so slight as it is, goes with the Cardinals and Bottomley based on his more consistent numbers.
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Besides his responsibility as manager Bucky Harris also was the Senators second baseman who would hit 1 HR, have 58 RBIs and a .268 batting average. He had a fielding percentage of .968 in 1931 as he made 26 errors in 805 chances. He would later be elected to the Hall of Fame as a manager in 1975. Th second baseman for the Cardinals was the National League’s MVP in 1931, Frank “The Fordham Flash” Frisch. During his MVP season Frisch would hit 4 home runs, have 82 RBIs and hit for a .311 batting average. In the field for the Cards Frankie would make 19 errors in 733 chances for a .974 fielding percentage. Frisch was a member of 4 World Series winning teams, as well as being a 3 time National League All Star. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1947. Frisch has the advantage here and while not by a wide margin, he is a comfortable choice as the player who would give the Cards the advantage.

Roger Peckinpaugh was the shortstop for the 1924 Senators and during the season he would hit 2 HRs with 73 RBIs and a .272 batting average. He made 29 errors in 794 chances for a .963 fielding percentage. The next season 1925, Peckinpaugh would be selected as the American League MVP. Charlie Gelbert at shortstop for the Cardinals in 1931, hit 1 HR and had 62 RBIs to go with his .289 batting average. He also made 31 errors in 747 chances for a .959 fielding percentage in the 1931 season. Peckinpaugh gives Washington the advantage here as he would just about be in the middle of his prime as a player.

The “Hot Corner”, third base is next and for the Senators it will be 23-year-old Ossie Bluege manning the base. Bluege hit 2 HRs, had 49 RBIs and a .281 batting average during the 1924 season. Also, while manning third base on defense Bluege made 18 errors in 314 chances while also spending some time and second base and shortstop. The Cardinals had veteran Sparky Adams at third in 1931 and he would lead the league in doubles with 46 in 1931 as well as 1 HR 40 RBIs and a .293 batting average. Adams made 13 errors at third base in 354 chances during the season. The advantage here is with Adams by just a slight margin.

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In the outfield for the 1924 Senators would be Goose Goslin (12 HRS, 129 RBIs and a .344 average-in the field Goslin made 16 errors in 397 chances/.960 fielding), Nemo Leibold (0 HRs, 20 RBIs, .293 average, in the field 1 error in 156 chances/.994 fielding) and Sam Rice (1 HR, 76 RBIs, .334 average, in the field 12 errors in 361 chances/.967 fielding). The Cardinals trio of outfielders was George Watkins (13 HRs 51 RBIs, .288 batting average, 12 errors in287 chances/.958 fielding) Chick Hafey (16 HRs, 95 RBIs, .349 batting average, in the field Hafey made 4 errors in 234 chances/.983 fielding) and Pepper Martin ( 7 HRs, 75 RBIs, .300 batting average, 10 errors in 302 chances/.967 fielding). Advantage here is to Washington with their 2 future Hall of Fame outfielders (Rice and Goslin). They all put up great numbers for the Senators and were good fielders for the day. St Louis had Chick Hafey as their Hall of Famer and while they had a player like Pepper Martin, who was nicknamed the “Wild Horse of the Osage” for his mad dances around the bases. Washington would have the outfield advantage.

Onto the pitching, and for Washington, it would not matter about the other pitchers on the staff. They had Walter Johnson, “the Big “Train”. It cannot be argued that Washington should have made another choice. Although he was in his last couple of years on the mound, he would go on to win over 400 games, more than 3,000 batters, have 110 shutouts, win more games by one run than any pitcher alive. He also had a record of 38 wins 26 losses in gams that were 1-0. Hands down the best pitcher to ever step on a mound. This is why as good as all of the Cardinals pitchers were, they are not on the level that Walter Johnson is. That being said Senators win the game by one run!!!!!!

Kevin Larkin has been going to all kinds of baseball amateur and professional since 1969. When asked he says he is a baseball fan who likes the Yankees. He was a police officer for 24 years in his home town of Barrington Massachusetts and helped on investigating most major crimes including murder, plane crashes and automobile crashes. He was certified as an expert witness in accident reconstruction and investigated almost 90 fatal automobile accidents. After retiring from the police force he renewed a love for baseball and as of now has authored three books on the subject: Baseball in the Bay State, Gehrig:Game by Game and Baseball in the Berkshires. He has authored articles for SABR and helps out there with research whenever possible. He has a coloection of almost 700 baseball books and enjoys pre 1900 and post 1900 baseball as well as the Black Sox Scandal and learning about the Negro Leagues. He also writes a column for CNY Baseball and loves giving back to the sport which has given him so much.

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