Saturday, April 2, 2011

The incredible week of Jack Flater and the 1908 Williamsport Millionaires

We don't see many doubleheaders nowadays, at least in the professional ranks. The thirty teams in the major leagues played seventeen doubleheaders between them last season, none of them scheduled. The Athletics and Angels are scheduled to play a doubleheader in May this season, the first scheduled pair of games in a decade. All the other doubleheaders during that time have been regularly scheduled single games with a made-up rained out game added on. Even these are a rarity with million dollar fields having excellent drainage, skilled grounds crews and tarps to protect the turf.

When a team plays a doubleheader, there is an opportunity to put a gap in the standings in the span of a single day. One team sweeping both games of a doubleheader from another gives the winning team two full games on the loser in the standings. So a doubleheader sweep is a big deal.

If a doubleheader sweep is a big deal, sweeping four doubleheaders is really something (even if they aren't all against the same opponent). Eight wins in four days will help your standing in the standings considerably.

But what if all those doubleheader sweeps came in a single week? For the Williamsport Millionaires, they did. Even more incredible, especially when compared to how pitchers are used in present day games, the Millionaires' pitcher Jack Flater won one of each pair of those doubleheaders that week.

Williamsport's run began at home on Monday, August 3rd, 1908 against Johnstown. The league did not play baseball on Sundays and Williamsport had split a doubleheader with Reading on Saturday. Because there were no stadium lights, the Tri-State League often scheduled second games of doubleheaders to go just seven innings, assuming that it might be tough to complete nine by nightfall.

Williamsport took the first game in a decisive fashion as Happy Townsend hurled a five hit shutout and a 4-0 victory. Ollie Britton got the start for the Millionaires in the second game. Britton got roughed up in the fifth inning, allowing three runs and surrendering the lead to the Johnnies. Manager Harry Wolverton yanked Britton and replaced him with Jack Flater in an effort to halt the damage since only two innings were scheduled to remain. Flater entered with two outs and got the final out. Williamsport tied the game in the bottom of the seventh. With the game tied and still plenty of light, the game went into extra innings. Flater stayed in to pitch and tossed five shutout innings. Williamsport scored in the bottom of the tenth to take the second game 5-4 and make a winner of Flater.

There was no rest for the weary the next day as Williamsport and Johnstown played another doubleheader. Jack Warhop, the league's leader in victories in 1908 with 29, began the day with another shutout of the Johnnies. Warhop only gave up two singles to Johnstown as his teammates scored a trio of runs for a 3-0 win. The start in the second game was given to Jack Flater. Flater was a little shaky, perhaps tired, and allowed a couple of runs to score on a fleet of singles in the first three innings. Johnstown's Patrick Murphy was even more tired. Murphy started and completed the first game of the doubleheader and then started the second game. He struggled mightily, hitting two batters, throwing three wild pitches, giving up eight hits and seven runs before finally being yanked in the third inning down 7-2. Rain began to fall and when the bottom of the fifth inning came with Williamsport still winning by the same margin, the game was declared official. Williamsport had created a four game difference in the standings between themselves and Johnstown in just two days.

The rain kept Williamsport from playing their scheduled game against Altoona on Wednesday so they made the game up on Thursday as a doubleheader. Hap Townsend took the hill in the first game. Behind centerfielder Birdie Cree, Williamsport took an early lead. Altoona fought back and tied the game in the seventh inning. Cree, who finished third in the league in batting average in 1908, laced his fourth single of the game in the bottom of the ninth and came around to score the winning run, Cree's third of the game, giving Williamsport a 6-5 victory. It wouldn't be a Williamsport doubleheader without a shutout and yes, Jack Flater threw it in the second game. Altoona managed just three singles against Flater and the Millionaires won the seven inning second game, 2-0.

Friday brought more rain and another make-up date. Altoona and Williamsport faced each other in a Saturday doubleheader. Jack Warhop easily won the first game 4-2 and Jack Flater got a ton of run support in the second game as Williamsport crushed Altoona 13-2. Cree, Dave Shean and Tom O'Hara all scored three runs a piece in the second game.

When the week began, Williamsport was 54-33 and held a two game lead over Harrisburg in the standings. At week's end, the margin had climbed to 6.5 games.

Birdie Cree was the big hero on offense, going 11 for 24 over the course of the week, being held hitless in just one game.

Jack Flater was 4-0, giving up four runs in 24.1 innings. He allowed just sixteen hits and walked only two men, striking out seven.

Harrisburg would close the gap over the remainder of the season but never catch Willamsport. At the conclusion of the season, Flater joined the Philadelphia Athletics, pitching in five games for his only major league stint. Jack Warhop and Birdie Cree both went to the New York Highlanders where they both stayed until 1915. Harry Wolverton would manage them both in 1912.

Dave Shean also went to the major leagues at the end of the season, getting some time in with the Phillies after being an Athletic in 1906. Shean played off and on in the majors through 1919.

Hap Townsend pitched one more season with Williamsport then hung it up. Tom O'Hara and Ollie Britton both played for Williamsport in 1909 as well.

Because of the era and the limited major league experience for many of these players, it isn't always easy to track down information on these guys. For example, Jack Flater's player file at the Hall of Fame consists of his death certificate and a note with a contact address for his daughter, likely there for some time and no longer valid. One of my objectives in researching the Tri-State League is finding out more about the guys who played in it or at the very least giving them some exposure beyond what you'd find on Baseball Reference. Given that we're talking about a league that lasted eleven years, there's a lot of information. But I'm enjoying it and hopefully you enjoyed reading a little about the league as well.

Training update: This is going to take some adjusting. Did a morning row less than twelve hours after the evening workout. It was to be five minute intervals but by the second interval, my hamstrings felt like a store brand gelatin based dessert (no commercialism here). I ended up stopping before completion. I ended up with over 4K rowed. I then added 50 pushups for good measure.

Today's moral is know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run. This won't make you the coward of the county. Of course, it's not going to give you a killer body and so Ruby might take her love to town. Because she's like that, you know.

All Kenny Rogers songs aside, I'm easing into this by necessity. Injury won't get me where I want to be. Overtraining and exhaustion won't get me where I want to be. I need to adjust down to get up to speed. If my hammys aren't firing, overcompensating with my back is not going to help me in the least.

It's like my primary karate instructor used to say. You have two objectives. Work hard today and come back tomorrow. I worked hard. I was sweating and breathing hard and working my muscles. Because I knew when to stop, I'll be back tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

THANKS FOR THE INFORMATION ON JACK FLATER. he is my wifes grandfather who has 9 minor league cards somewhere that we are trying to loacate.

Mad Guru said...

If you check back, please drop me a line. I'd like to get in touch with you. Thanks.