New Managers, Same Story
Gavvy Cravath turned over the manager’s job to the old Tiger’s pitcher Wild Bill Donovan to begin the 1921 season. It was an odd choice, not that Donovan did not have experience; he managed the Yankees from 1915 to 1917, it was just that two years earlier, Phillies’ owner, William F. Baker had accused Donovan of involvement with gamblers in the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Donovan was cleared by new Baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, and Baker apologized. It must have been a dandy apology. In hindsight it might be asked if Baker was doing Donovan a favor by hiring him to manage the Phillies, or was it punishment, given how bad the team was.
Donovan couldn’t make it through the season; after 87 games and 62 losses, he had had enough, and turned it over to Ervin Key (they called him, Kaiser) Wilhelm.
How bad were they? They were galactically bad; let us count the ways: first, the pitching – Jimmy Ring (10-17, 4.24 ERA), and Lee Meadows (11-16, 4.31 ERA), both 26 years old, were the top winners. The top loser was George Smith (4-20, 4.76 ERA).Overall, the pitching staff allowed the most runs (919), the most hits (1665), and the most walks (371); they had the least number of strikeouts (333); they had the worst team ERA (4.48).
Next, the fielding: they had the most errors and the lowest team fielding percentage (.955). Oh sure, they led the league in homeruns (thank you, Baker Bowl), but they were last in runs scored (617), last in on base percentage, and first in strikeouts.
They lost 103 games and finished 43 ½ games behind the winning New York Giants. The Giants’starting lineup for the World’s Series included three player recently acquired from the Phillies: shortsop Beauty Bancroft, second baseman Johnny Rawlings, and outfielder Irish Meusel. When he was traded to the Giants on July 25, Meusel, in 84 games for the Phillies, was hitting .353 with seven homeruns and 51 RBIs. The Giants liked him enough to pay the Phillies $30,000 for his services. The Giants’ lineup would have included four former Phillies, except that Casey Stengel, traded to the Giants on July 1, was hurt and couldn’t play.
Small wonder that the Phillies trailed everybody in attendance; they drew 273,961, an average of 3,558 per game – there were a lot of empty seats at Phillies’ games. The franchise was locked in a vicious cycle – low attendance meant no money to acquire good players, and bad players meant low attendance. For the next 25 years the team would draw an average of less than 4,000 fans per game, and in the deprssion years, 1933 to 1940, less than 3,000.
In the first of three-straight all New York World’s Series, the Giants beat the Yankees five games to three in an exciting back and forth series played entirely in the Polo Grounds which was home to both clubs in 1921. Irish Meusel and Johnny Rawlings were the hitting leaders for the Giants, while Babe Ruth led the Yankees.