There were two main events that would dot the Pirate landscape in 1912, the end of an era for one of the Pittsburgh veterans who helped build the powerhouse of the previous decade and the setting of a hitting record that would go on to be one of the longest hitting records to date and one that has still not been broken.
Before we get to those two important parts of the 1912 campaign, we’ll go through a quick synopsis of the season. Honus Wagner was now 38-years old and in his eyes were declining. The difference between a normal player on the decline and a legend would be comparable to a $10 cubic zirconium ring and the Hope Diamond. Declining in Wagner’s eyes was hitting “only” .324 with 102 RBI’s, second in the league, instead of leading in every offensive category, he was only in the top 5 in most.
The Bucs would make a shrewd move getting veteran outfielder Mike Donlin from Boston for Vin Campbell. Donlin, who ended his career the following season with a lifetime .334 average, would hit .316 in 244 at bats. Max Carey, the man who eventually took the mantle of the best Pirate player from Wagner after he retired, had his first .300 season at .302, stealing 45 bases, second in the league.
Second year man Claude Hendrix came out of nowhere to lead the pitching staff with a 24-9 mark and a league leading .727 winning percentage. Another second year vet, 22-year old Hank Robinson, was solid with a 2.26 ERA, fourth best in the league while trailing only the great Christy Mathewson in fewest walks per nine innings with a 1.54 mark.
The veteran of whom we spoke of earlier was none other than Pirate great Tommy Leach. Leach was one of the members of the great Louisville heist of 1899and had been a staple of the Pirate line-up, splitting time between third and in the outfield, wherever the team needed him. He had hit .300 on two occasions but only .238 in an injury plagued 1911 season. Clarke wanted to get back to the top and made a bold move early in 1912, sending Leach, who ironically was hitting .299 at the time of his departure and Lefty Leifield, who had been slightly better than a .500 pitcher over the past two seasons, to Chicago, for outfielder Solly Hofman and pitcher King Cole, who was 40-13 in little more than two major league seasons.
In yet another example of getting lesser value than what you had showing why Pittsburgh would soon drop from the ranks of championship contender, Hofman played in only 17 games for the Pirates this season, as his was said to be suffering from a nervous breakdown or, what some claim was a cover for either Venereal disease or a or problem with the bottle. He played in only one more season for the Bucs, hitting but .229 in 28 contests. Cole was only 2-2 with a 6.43 ERA before he left the club, then was suspended and eventually relegated to the minor leagues. Leifeld was 7-2 the rest of the way for the Cubs, but for all intents and purposes, was done with his career soon after, while Leach did well, hitting .289 in 1913 playing center and then .263 the following year. He would return to the Pirates in 1918 to end his career. With the classy veteran Leach gone, it left Wagner as the only player left on the team from the great Louisville trade.
The other big story of the season was the setting of a major hit record by a Pirate, that has gone down as truly the one record that may never be broken……., the record for triples set by the infamous Owen “Chief” Wilson. Wilson was coming off a superstar season in 1911 and would add to it in 1912, hitting .300 with 11 homers, 3rd in the league, 95 RBI’s, 4th highest and a NL second best .513 slugging percentage. They were all impressive numbers, but the one mind boggling figure Wilson put on the board, was 36 triples, smashing the all time modern day mark previously held by Larry Doyle of the Giants, who hit 25 the year before (Dave Orr and Heinie Reitz actually held the all time mark of 31 set in the 1800’s). It is such a tremendous figure when one considers the closest number to it since was 26. The irony of the whole thing was that Wilson’s last triple on the last day of the season, came about because he was tagged out at home trying to stretch it into a inside the park homerun.By Pirates Encyclopedia
- Claude Hendrix, Hank Robinson, Honus Wagner, King Cole, Lefty Leifield, Max Carey, Mike Donlin, Owen Wilson, Solly Hofman, Tommy Leach, Vin Campbell