After surveying the collapse of his team in 1921, Barney Dreyfuss vowed to make changes in order to address shortcomings in player performance and discipline. Although the Pirates had finished the season with a fairly set lineup, thirdbase had been a problem and the rowdiness of several players was considered even a bigger threat to the team in 1922.
Rumors of deals began almost immediately following the close of the season. Wilbur Cooper was said to be unpopular with his teammates despite his success and was rumored to be heading to Cincinnati for third baseman Heinie Groh. Another rumor had a package of players including Clyde Barnhart, the young incumbent at third being traded for Milt Stock, the Cardinal third baseman who had fallen out of grace with Branch Rickey. The Pirates admitted conversations were held regarding Stock, but said Rickey’s price was too high. The Bucs also struck out in an attempt to obtain veteran Charlie Deal from the Cubs, who Chicago had tried to sneak through waivers amid rumors of ill health, in order to send him to the Pacific Coast League for Jigger Statz. In the end, the best the Pirates could do was to obtain utility infielders Jewel Ens from the Cardinals and Wilkinsburg’s Bill McKechnie from the minor leagues.
Dreyfuss was more successful in making other changes. George Cutshaw was waived to Detroit, as the team claimed that he had slowed in the field despite his .340 average the previous year. Dreyfuss also announced that the team would not share profits as it had in 1921 with the players. The profit-sharing plan had been successful for the players as the Bucs drew record numbers to Forbes Field during its one year implementation. Catcher Walter Schmidt, perhaps the shrewdest of the Buccos, wrote a letter to a local paper criticizing Dreyfuss and stating he would be happy to be traded. Schmidt undoubtedly realized that Dreyfuss’s promise of improved salaries would not make up the difference in the potential compensation players received. Schmidt was also said not to get along with Manager
George Gibson and it was implied the catcher had openly mocked some of Gibson’s strategies. Schmidt, not surprisingly, refused to sign his contract and did not report to camp.
Two other holdouts were Gibson’s rightfielders, Possum Whitted and Dave Robertson. Whitted’s holdout made his demise easier for Dreyfuss as he had been labeled a carouser and had been involved in the New York night club fiasco the previous year. He was sold on waivers to Brooklyn, but lasted only one game with the Robins.
Robertson’s holdout led to his release as well. In place of Whitted, a skilled defensive rightfielder and decent hitter and Robertson, who had batted .322 after his midseason acquisition, the team planned on relying on young players such as Ray Rowher and Johnny Mokan in right. Cutshaw’s dismissal had also left an opening at second with Cotton Tierney, who had slumped badly the second half of 1921 and who carried a suspect glove and shortstop prospect Pie Traynor contending at the keystone corner. Rowher’s brother Claude was also in camp to compete with Barnhart and retreads Ens and McKechnie at third. Late in camp, Gibson decided to move Traynor, who had been unimpressive at second, to third and inserted Stuffy Stewart, who had last played in the bigs in 1917 at second. McKechnie assumed more of a coach role and was designated to work with Traynor to sharpen his glovework at third. While the Traynor experiment would prove an incredible success, Stewart played only three games at second before he was demoted.
The Pirates were thus something of a question mark as the season began and their play was predictably inconsistent. St. Louis crushed Cooper 10-1 in the opener, and the team struggled along at .500 for the first month of the season. The pitching, thought to be a strongpoint, was inconsistent and Gibson was carrying ten pitchers on the roster, something unusual at the time. The Sporting News columnist Ralph Davis noted that “No team can use so many twirlers on its roster.”
In May, the Bucs began to make a move, as the team’s hitting got hot and shot to the top of the league at .310. Maranville was noted as playing excellent ball and it was said he seemed to be taking his job more seriously than the year before. Traynor’s play at third was also winning accolades, including some from John McGraw and the team moved into third. Carson Bigbee led a comeback win against the rival Giants going 4-for-5 with a pair of triples, a double and single. His second triple came with the bases loaded and was the gamewinner in the Bucs’ 10-7 triumph.
The victory moved Pittsburgh ahead of the Cards into second place. Second base was still unsettled. After Stewart was sent out, Tierney took over the position and hit well enough, but his defense was not a strong point. Then he was injured. Ens, who’s range was better suited for third or first, replaced him. Rowher and Mokan were not impressing in rightfield either, and Walt Mueller, a lefthanded hitting
slap hitter started to get more playing time. Bigbee’s strong hitting saw him fourth in the league among regulars at .372. Babe Adams and the undistinguished veteran Hal Carlson were pitching well.
In mid-June, the Giants gave the Pirates flashbacks of 1921, beating the Bucs three strait at the Polo Grounds. The victories including a 13-0 debacle and a game winning double from former Buc Highpockets Kelly against Adams. New York’s third win, a 7-1 pasting, gave the Giants a seven game winning streak and knocked the Pirates into third.
In late June, with the team stumbling further, Gibson tried to shake things up by moving Maranville to second, Traynor to third and placing Barnhart back at third. While Johnny Gooch had been hitting well, the Pirates were being criticized for not having an experienced catcher to work with their pitchers when the team dropped below .500, all the way to sixth place. One of the losses was a 15-14 heartbreaker to Brooklyn in which the Pirates took a 14-12 lead in the top of the 10th, only to have the Robins score three in the bottom half of the frame, aided by three Pittsburgh errors.
Amid claims he had again lost control of the team, Gibson resigned on July 3. Bill McKechnie was named as his replacement, inheriting a 32-33 team. It was rumored that the final straw for Dreyfuss was witnessing several of the players drunk in Chicago and that the owner and manager engaged in a shouting match after Dreyfuss had called Gibson’s attention to what he had seen. There were also rumors that Gibson, so frustrated by the team’s play had considered pulling the lineup out of a hat. When the first name drawn was firstbaseman Charlie Grimm, Gibson abandoned the idea, but his reported consideration of such a tactic (more recently employed by Billy Martin when he was with the Yankees), caused him more grief in the papers and with fans. For his part, Gibson simply said goodbye to his players and coaches and refused to comment to reporters.
The team did not make an immediate improvement under McKechnie and individual performances such as Max Carey’s on July 7, were wasted. In that game, Carey reached base nine times with six hits and three walks. He also stole three bases and made a couple of exceptional plays in center, but the Pirates lost 9-8 in 18 innings. Realizing the team needed something to help its pitching and that no big league caliber arms were available, McKechnie prevailed on Dreyfuss to sign Schmidt. Dreyfuss also agreed to purchase Reb Russell, a former 20-game winner with the Chicago White Sox a decade earlier, from Minneapolis of the American Association. Russell, however, was not signed to help on the mound, but at the plate and in rightfield. The lefthander had hurt his arm around 1917 and had drifted to the minors where he had revived his career as a powerhitting outfielder. Russell, 33, was leading the Association in homeruns at the time of his purchase. He provided big hits quickly upon his arrival and Cooper began to pitch with the skill Pirate fans were used to.
Late in the month, a pair of two-homerun games from Carey, helped the Pirates defeat the Giants twice and moved the team back over .500. Two more Buc victories over New York moved them into fourth place, only eight games out. The Pirates success had been aided by Art Nehf, who had beaten the team 12 strait times, being unable to pitch due to illness. The performance against McGraw’s men sparked the team and it followed up with 13 strait wins.
Bigbee was still fourth in the league in hitting at .354, while Carey (.348), Gooch (.325) and part-timer Barnhart (.349) were helping to round out a blossoming offense. Tierney contributed two four-hit games in a double header win over the Phillies as the team pounded Philadelphia pitching for 84 hits and 108 total bases in a four game sweep. The wins made the Pirates 13-0 against their cross-state rivals and the Pirates joined four other teams in a pennant race into mid-August.
The Giants were struggling and to make matters worse, their already thin pitching was further depleted when Phil Douglas was suspended from baseball for writing a letter to the Cardinals Les Mann expressing he would be willing to take it easy against them for a price. Douglas, an alcoholic, claimed he had written the letter as a reaction to a blowout he had with McGraw, and that he had no intention of following through with his dubious offer, but his suspension stood. When the Pirates finally beat Nehf in a game which saw Cooper capture his fifth strait win, the team’s confidence was at a highpoint. Unfortunatley, New York rebounded to win the next two games, 7-6 and 6-3.
The Pirates weren’t finished though. Although Adams was being bothered by arm problems which caused him to be held back from starts, Russell and the offense were proving to be big stories. Since his purchase, Russell had hit a dozen homruns and was averaging over an rbi per game. Tierney had also enjoyed a hot streak which shot his batting average to .371. The team’s batting average had improved 12 points, to .310, in the span of a month and when New York began to miss Douglas even more as McGraw’s pitchers started to fail the Pirates moved to within three of the lead.
Cooper shut out the Cubs for his 20th win, and after the Cubs rallied against late season pickup Myrl Brown and Johnny Morrison for a victory, the Pirates took two the next day, including a win over Grover Cleveland Alexander and a come-from-behind ninth inning triumph. The Pirates appeared poised to make a move, but the Giants started to play better again and McKechnie’s crew was not able to gain. In fact, Cincinnati and St. Louis began playing at a better pace, and the Reds swept a doubleheader to close out the season and dropped the Pirates into a thirdplace tie with the Cards.
In the end, 1922 had been a reversal of form for the Pirates. As opposed to 1921 when the team played great ball into August, then slumped and were overtaken by New York, the Pirates in 1922 had played poorly at first, but rebounded to put pressure on the Gothamites. The style of the team’s play had also changed. The 1922 Pirates led the league in hitting and runs scored, but its pitching was only slightly better than the league norm. The 1921 squad had finished fourth in scoring and fifth in batting, but had led the league in pitching.
Wilbur Cooper had been successful both seasons. He finished 1922 with 23 wins, second in the league to the Reds’ Eppa Rixey’s 25. Johnny Morrison showed his pitching in 1921 had been a preview of better things to come with 17 victories, but Adams, Carlson and Whitey Glazner had all disappointed in the long run and Chief Yellowhorse was inconsistent in relief. Earl Hamilton had fared well in spot roles, going 11-7.
The Pirates had plenty of hitting. Russell, despite a homerun drought the final six weeks of the season, hit .368 and knocked in 75 runs in only 60 games. His great performance as a cleanup hitter had been set up well by Bigbee (5-99-.350), Carey (10-70-.329, with a league leading 80 walks and 51 stolen bases) and Maranville (.295).
All three scored over 110 runs and Bigbee and Carey each had over 200 hits, while Maranville just missed the mark with 198. Tierney (.345), Gooch (.329) and backups Barnhart (.330) and Schmidt (.329) contributed to the team’s incredible .308 average. Additioally, Bigbee and Carey were considered the two best defensive outfielders in the league, Maranville the best shortstop and both Charlie Grimm at first and Pie Traynor at third had incredible range.
As the team played almost .600 ball under McKechnie, few changes in the starting lineup would be demanded for 1923.By Pirates Encyclopedia
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- Babe Adams, Barney Dreyfuss, Bill McKechnie, Carson Bigbee, Charlie Deal, Clyde Barnhart, Cotton Tierney, Dave Robertson, Earl Hamilton, George Cutshaw, George Gibson, Hal Carlson, Heinie Groh, Jewel Ens, Johnny Gooch, Johnny Mokan, Johnny Morrison, Max Carey, Milt Stock, Myrl Brown, Pie Traynor, Possum Whitted, Rabbit Maranville, Ray Rohwer, Reb Russell, Walter Mueller, Walter Schmidt, Whitey Glazner, Wilbur Cooper