Tuesday, November 16, 2010

1909 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates - Babe Adams

We begin our look at the Pittsburgh Pirates championship teams with the 1909 squad. After their loss in the 1903 World Series, for several years the Pirates were bridesmaids but never the bride despite dominating the National League. In 1904, they won 87 games but finished fourth in the league. In 1905, a 96-57 record left them nine games behind John McGraw's New York Giants. The Chicago Cubs took the NL pennant from 1906 to 1908 and the Pirates finished third with 93 wins then second with 91 and 98 wins. But in 1909, Pittsburgh finally broke through to claim the National League crown.

The Pirates started off modestly enough, going 5-6 in April. They began May with a seven game winning streak which put them on top of the league for a while. The Cubs, though, were still a dominant team as well and after defeating Pittsburgh 8-3 in Pittsburgh on May 29th, the two teams left for Chicago with the Cubs holding a half game lead over the Pirates.

In Chicago, the Pirates swept the Cubs in a doubleheader to take the lead in the standings, a position they would not relinquish the rest of the season. The Pirates returned home after the doubleheader sweep and reeled off a twelve game winning streak, opening up a gap of five games over Chicago. It was smooth sailing from there and a sixteen game winning streak in September helped lift the Pirates to a 110-42 record, the third best winning percentage of the modern (post-1901) era. They especially dominated the doormats of the league, going 18-4 against Brooklyn, 18-3 versus St. Louis, and an astounding 20-1 when playing Boston.

The Pirates excelled at all aspects of the game. They had the highest batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage in the league as they led the league with 701 runs scored. The top four players in the National League in runs scored were all Pirates. Future Hall of Famers Honus Wagner (the batting champion and arguably best player in the league in '09) and Fred Clarke joined league leader Tommy Leach and mid-season acquisition Bobby Byrne as the only players to score 90+ runs.

On the pitching and defensive side, the Pirates were equally as stellar. The Pirates committed the fewest errors and had the highest fielding percentage in the league. The Pirates committed 227 errors. The rest of the league averaged 292. Howie Camnitz paced the pitching with a 25-6 record and an ERA of 1.62. Hall of Famer Vic Willis added 22 wins. Youngsters Nick Maddox and Lefty Leifeld rounded out a top-notch rotation.

Even though his pitching had been solid throughout the season, when it came time to face the mighty Detroit Tigers in the World Series, manager Fred Clarke opted to ride the hot hand. He tabbed handsome rookie Babe Adams to open up the World Series against Ty Cobb and his teammates.

Adams, despite being a rookie, was no stranger to professional baseball. He had won 20 games in the minor leagues in 1905, 1907 and 1908 and had seen action in the majors twice. He got a start for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1906 and pitched in four games for the Pirates in 1907. He was hit hard in all the games and did not seem to have the seasoning needed to be a regular, especially for a juggernaut like the Pirates.

In Louisville in 1908, though, he proved his readiness. Exhibiting excellent control by only walking 40 batters in 312 innings, he showed he was prepared to take on the National League.

Adams found it difficult to crack Pittsburgh's vaunted rotation as exhibited by his performance on May 4th, 1909. Adams had been used in relief a couple of times in the early part of the season but was given a start against the Chicago Cubs and their ace, Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown. Adams dueled Brown for eleven innings with both hurlers not allowing a run. The Pirates finally plated a run in the bottom of the eleventh to earn the victory and give Adams his first career shutout. Adams' reward was further usage in relief.

Although he appeared sporadically (complete games by a pitcher were still the norm), Adams fared well. By the end of August he had six victories and had saved a couple of other games (although the save was not an official statistic). At the end of August, Clarke started using Adams as a starter. He went 7-2 down the stretch with a pair of shutouts and finished the season with a 1.11 ERA.

The World Series opened in Pittsburgh and Clarke's decision to start Adams looked terrible. He walked two batters, got two groundouts and then gave up a single to Jim Delahanty which scored a run in the first. George Moriarty also singled but the ball hit Delehanty on the basepaths to end the inning. Adams settled down from there, though, allowing just four singles the rest of the way and not allowing any more runs in a 4-1 complete game victory.

The Tigers took two of the next three and Adams took the hill for game five. His control was much better as he only allowed one walk. He did serve up two home runs. Adams got a lot of support from his teammates as they belted out ten hits, including a home run by Clarke, and stole four bases. The Pirates gave Adams the 8-4 win.

Since you know already from me that this series went seven games, you can guess who won game six. For the final game of the series, Adams was selected to start with just one day of rest. He showed little sign of fatigue. The Tigers got six hits and drew just one walk. Adams blanked the Tigers 8-0 to give the Pirates their first World Championship.

Sixteen years later, the Pirates claimed their second championship and Adams again pitched for them, albeit in a lesser role. He pitched one inning of shutout relief (making him part of the answer to the trivia question from the previous post). As for the rest of that 1925 Series, you'll have to come back to read about Max, Harold and Hazen.

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