Babe Adams

Babe Adams

Babe Adams

May 18, 1882
5' 11"
185 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-18-1906 with SLN

He was presumably the first major league player ever to be given the moniker the “Babe”, but even though he wasn’t quite the gigantic historical figure that the other Babe would become, he nevertheless had a wonderful career, one that could probably go down as the best pitching career in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

After going 0-1 for the St Louis Cardinals in 1906, Adams was sold to the Bucs in 1907 and was sent down to their Louisville ball club in 1908 after a 0-2-6.95 performance with the club in 1907.

While down in the minors, Adams fashioned a 22 win season and also picked up his famed nickname as many Louisville women found him attractive and would often claim “oh you babe”.  The name stuck.

When he returned to the team in 1909, he would have a spectacular season splitting time between the starting rotation and the bullpen.  He went 12-3 with a miniscule 1.11 ERA in 130 innings for the world champions.  Even more impressive was the .196 average opponents hit against the Babe that season and his 12-strikeout game, which remained the all-time Pirate record for a single contest until Bob Veale, broke it in 1965.  As wonderful a campaign he had on the mound, he had that much more a discouraging one at the plate hitting only .051.  Although he was horrendous at bat that season he eventually would turn into a decent hitting pitcher for his career ending up with a lifetime .212 average.

Despite the phenomenal official rookie season that Adams attained, it was his performance in the post season that would be the thing Adams was most remembered for, not only in 1909 but also for his career as a whole.  Pittsburgh came into the Series against the Tigers with three of the best pitchers in the in National League in Howie Camnitz, Vic Willis and Lefty Leifeld.  Camnitz, their ace had been ill with Tonsillitis and the combined record of the group versus Detroit was 0-3 with a 6.63 ERA.  Enter the young hurler to save the day.  Adams, who started game one at the suggestion of National League boss John Heydler who thought that Babe reminded him of Washington pitcher Dolly Gray, a hurler who dominated Detroit all season.  Whether Adams was an exact replica of Gray is up for debate, but Heydler’s suggestion proved nonetheless on the money as Babe beat the Tigers in game 1 4-1 on a steady diet of Curveballs, 8-4 in game 5 and shut them out on six hits 8-0 in the decisive seventh game, giving Babe a 3-0 mark, all complete games, with a sparkling 1.33 ERA.

The next season, Adams became a fixture in the starting rotation, a space he held onto until 1916.  Babe went 18-9 in 1910 with an NL fifth best 2.24 ERA before winning 20 games the next season for the first time with a 22-12 record.  The 22 wins were 5th best in the senior circuit while his ERA at 2.33 was good for 3rd. 

After a disappointing 1912 campaign, Adams again would move among the league leader in 1913, when he won 21 games, 6th in the NL and was runner up in the ERA race at 2.15.

Despite the fact Babe was never a flame thrower, he was always one of the most accurate pitchers ever, only giving up 430 walks in a career that spanned 19 years and 2995 1/3 innings, a mere 1.29 walks per nine innings.  He also was annually among the leaders in ERA during his time in the show as his 2.76 lifetime mark is the 79th lowest in major league history.

Although Adams had his first losing record as a Buc in 1914, his control was never more in evidence as it was in a game on June 17th, when Babe battled with the Giants Rube Marquard over 21 innings, in a 3-1 New York Victory.  It was that game when Adams gave up no walks over the course of the game setting the major league mark for the longest game without giving up a free pass.

In 1916 the Indiana native developed a sore arm and his ERA shot up to 5-72 with a 2-9 record.  The Pirates eventually cut the 9-year veteran and he went to the minor league Western Association to try and find his way back again.  Adams went 34-16 in his minor league sabbatical and the Pirates would bring him back up to the majors in the war ravaged season of 1918 and by 1919 was once again one of the best hurlers in baseball finishing with a 17-10 record and his lowest ERA ever as a full time starter of 1.98.

The next two campaigns, Adams continued to stay at the top finishing second in the NL with 2.16 and 2.64 ERA’s respectively in 1920 and 1921.  His .737 winning percentage in ’21 was tops in the circuit while the 8 shutouts Babe threw in 1920 was also a National League best.  Perhaps more impressive than anything else over those two years was the fact that in 1920, Adams walked only 18 men in 263 innings.

As Adams career went on he eventually became a reliever and would eventually have the opportunity to pitch in another World Series when the 43-year old pitcher tossed one scoreless inning against the Senators in 1925 making his the only Pirate to play for both the 1909 and 1925 world championship teams. 

While he should have been given all the accolades that come with the culmination of the career of one of the greatest players in the franchises history as his time in the show was winding down, Adams would leave the majors in a way that was nothing short of criminal.  During the 1926 season, Fred Clarke, who was acting as a bench coach at the time, questioned manager Bill McKechnie decision to leave an aging Max Carey in center field.  One of Carey’s friends, Carson Bigbee, caught wind of the complaint and told Carey about it.  Carey went to Adams who was an elder statesman of the club and when management asked Babe about it, he made the simple statement that the manager should be allowed to make the decisions in support of McKechnie.  Some players wanted management to take Clarke off the bench because of the controversy although most favored the ex-Pirate boss.  Unfortunately, Clarke wanted the complaining players punished and Bigbee, Carey, Adams as well as McKechnie, were all cut loose from the team by seasons end.

Adams, who had not meant to put down Clarke, a man whom he admired, was completely perplexed by his dismissal as he wondered after 18 years of outstanding performances for the Pirates, and conversely 18 years of keeping his mouth shut and not causing any controversies, why he would be punished for simply answering a question.

All the players appealed to Heydler after the dismissal and while he cleared the of insubordination charges, he also ruled that the team was in fact allowed to cut them.

After his career was over, Babe wore a number of hats including, managing in the minors, sports reporting, a career as a foreign correspondent and farming.  He also became one of the best marksmen in the country after his retirement.

Despite the contentious way Adams ended his Pittsburgh career, there is no denying that few if any Pirate pitchers in the annuls of the great franchise, ever gave more or performed better in the line of duty than the man who one Pittsburgh Dispatch society columnist dubbed as like a “matinee idol”, the original Babe.

Babe, Babe Adams, Hall of Fame, Louisville Buckeyes, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals
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