Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes a championship team makes late in its tenure is not realizing when it’s time to change the guard and look towards the future. The Steelers of the early 1980’s are a prime example of that adage when they chose to stick with their aging veterans and not try and replace them with some more youthful, potential stars while the vets were still somewhat productive, making for a smoother transition. The Pirates in the early 1910’s were looking to become just as guilty as the Steelers were 70 years later.
Not that all the veterans did poorly in 1911, 37-year-old Honus Wagner won another batting crown at .339 and 38-year-old Fred Clarke rebounded to .324 in what would be his last season for all intents and purposes. On the other side 39-year-old Deacon Phillippe was all but done and 33-year old injury plagued Tommy Leach hit .238 and would be gone after the season. It wasn’t that the team would fall apart this season or next, but it was apparent that the talent that should have been replacing these superstars was not on the same par. When the Federal League would emerge in 1914, the Pirates, who were close to being an average team, fell apart with the defections to the new circuit.
One player who did come to the forefront as a new superstar was right fielder Owen Wilson. Wilson would hit .300 with 12 homers, 5th in the circuit, and 107 RBI’s, only trailing Chicago’s Wildfire Schulte who had 121.
Barney Dreyfuss signed three players in 1911 that showed the talent level was not properly being replaced. He spent $22,500 on pitcher Marty O’Toole, bringing him over from St Paul of the American Association. O’Toole was 15-17 with an NL high 159 walks in 1912, one of only three seasons he spent in the majors. He also bought catcher Bill Kelly, also from St Paul, who played in only 104 major league games in four seasons. Although hitting a respectable .290, he had an average arm and did not seem very adept defensively. 18-year-old first baseman Bill Keen was the third player who came to the Bucs in a fruitless venture as he hurt himself going from second to third after a walk and would go 0 for 7 in 1911, which would encompass his major league career.
Bottom line in sports, coaching and heart can only take you so far, its talent that will inevitably take a team over the top to the Promised Land.
By Pirates Encyclopedia
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- Barney Dreyfuss, Bill Keen, Bill Kelly, Deacon Phillippe, Fred Clarke, Honus Wagner, Marty O'Toole, Owen Wilson, Tommy Leach