In an effort to rid the Pirates of the lack of discipline Barney Dreyfuss blamed for the Bucs being unable to overtake New York and Cincinnati in 1923, the Pirate owner tried to trade Rabbit Maranville over the off-season, but found no one willing to take on the alcohol abusing shortstop. The team had planned well to protect itself by acquiring the rights to shortstops Glenn Wright and Eddie Moore from the minors and some scouts believed Pie Traynor could easily make the transition to short if Maranville was traded as he was the best defensive thirdbaseman in the game and had played short in the minors. Wright also was highly praised as an allaround player and Moore was considered a blue chip youngster.
While the team was unable to move Maranville, the Pirates made other changes prior to 1924 such as selling the disappointing Earl Hamilton and releasing Reb Russell. As usual, the team acquired an assortment of minor league hurlers, hoping to find at least one or two standouts. Most notable were Emil Yde (pronounced Eedie) and Ray Kremer. Yede was coming off a 28-12 season as a pitcher and had hit .392 with 18 doubles as a part-time outfielder in the Western League. Dreyfuss had sent last year’s big minor league acquisitions, Earl Kunz and George Boehler along with young infielder Spencer Adams and $15,000 to Oakland for the 31-year-old Kremer, a veteran of ten minor league seasons. Kremer had been 24-15 with the Oaks, but looked even older than his stated age and McKechnie was criticized for making the trade. The Bucs also had two young outfielders vying for spots on the roster. The first, Henry Luce, had led the Michigan-Ontario League in hitting at .382 while clouting 15 homeruns and had gone 6 for 12 with the big club in ’23. He did not, however, make the team. The other outfielder had been less successful when given cups of coffee over the past three seasons, but would be of major significance over the next four years. He was Hazen Shirley Cuyler, but would go on to fame under the nickname “Kiki.”
McKechnie made it clear to Maranville early that Wright was going to open the season as the team’s shortstop and that the Rabbit, still one of the top defensive players around when the mood and sobriety allowed him, would be moved to second.
Hoping to avoid the frequent rain postponements which was seen as a reason the Pirates had often gotten off to slow starts in recent years, the team moved its training from Hot Springs, Arkansas to Paso Robles, California. The move was also advantageous to the early signing of Walter Schmidt. An almost perennial holdout, the catcher lived on the West Coast and disliked Hot Springs. Given the number of inexperienced pitchers on his roster, Deacon Bill wanted Schmidt in camp early to acquaint himself with the team’s young arms.
Despite getting plenty of work in during the spring and Schmidt’s presence, the Bucs struggled out of the gate although they played some exciting games early in the season. In one contest, Maranville stole home with two outs and two strikes on pitcher Morrison in the 14th inning to defeat the Cubs. The Pirates, though, were 9-10 through the first 19 games. Wright was erratic in the field, providing some great plays, but also making just as many errors on easy ones. Babe Adams suffered from a shoulder problem and would appear in only nine games all year. The slumps and injuries did have some positive effects as they pushed Kremer and Cuyler into more action than planned and both responded well, although McKechnie was unable to settle on a lineup due to his hitters inconsistencies plus the fact that Max Carey had made it known he preferred not to lead off despite having as good a set of credentials for that role as anyone in the league. When Carey was injured, Cuyler got his first chance to play on a full-time basis and when the Pirate captain returned, McKechnie manipulated his lineup to keep Cuyler in it. The manager’s choices were made easier by the fact that Carson Bigbee’s surgery had not corrected his sinus problems which effected his play the previous year, but with the team dropping into seventh place in mid-May, rumors began to surface that McKechnie would be replaced, possibly by John C. Calhoun, a former ballplayer most recently employed as a police inspector.
Dreyfuss, however, gave McKechnie a vot of confidence and the team, led by the efforts of rookies Kremer and Yde and a return to form by Wilbur Cooper, began to play better despite a poor offense. With Maranville, Traynor and Bigbee all slumping at the plate, McKechnie benched the latter two in June. It was particularly surprising to Pirate fans to see Traynor fall as he was struggling to keep his average above .250. McKechnie inserted Moore at third and he hit well over .300 and with Cuyler hitting .361 and Wright .303, the Pirate rookies lifted the team over .500 in late in the month. Besides his pitching, Yde was also contributing at the plate. Maranville’s defense at second quickly became nearly as spectacular as it had been at short and when Traynor got back into the lineup after Moore was injured, the Pirates flashed the fanciest glovework in the NL. Injuries at one point decimated the Pirates’ catching corps, but Dreyfuss claimed Earl Smith, a strong lefthanded hitter, off waivers from Boston when the Braves attempted to sell his contract to the PCL. While the Braves protested and attempted to nullify the waiver claim (some suggested at the behest of Giants’ manager John McGraw, who had developed a strong working relationship with Boston), Commissioner Landis emphasized the rules forbade this and ordered Smith to the Pirates. The backstop provided a potent bat for the Bucs, hitting .369. Smith, a former Giant, hated McGraw and played inspired baseball in attempting to push the Pirates past the Giants. The team played excellent ball into August to move into second place, but were still nine games behind the Giants. McKechnie’s men took three out of four from McGraw’s and suddenly the team was back in contention.
Yde ran off a personal eight game winning streak and the Pirates returned to Forbes Field where they beat the Giants four strait, running their recent record to a sizzling 19-3. Cuyler’s average had jumped to .385 and he trailed only Carey in stolen bases. Wright was providing extra base power and clutch hitting and the club bought a former star pitcher in Big Jeff Pfeffer to deepen its staff to appear poised to take over first place.
A brick wall stood in Brooklyn, however. In late August, Dazzy Vance and Burleigh Grimes, both who had started their great careers in unimpressive fashion with the Pirates several years before, beat the Pirates back to back for the second time that season. The Pirates rebounded from the series to go on another hot streak to move to within one game of the Giants, but Brooklyn was playing even better and when the Robins’ pitching stopped the Pirates once again in September, Wilbert Robinson’s team moved ahead of the Bucs into second place. McGraw, however, was not taking the Pirates lightly. After an earlier game had been rained out, McGraw, instead of scheduling a double header, announced the game would be made up on September 25. This served the Giants’ tactician in two ways. New York was fighting injuries to key players and this would give the players an extra day’s rest and Pittsburgh would have to play a double header the next day against the Cubs in Pittsburgh after traveling by train from the Big Apple. The ploy may have had some impact as New York won 5-1, 4-2 and 5-4 as first Meadows, then Yde were defeated. With their hopes on the line in the final game, Carey hit a three run homer in the ninth to make the score close, but old Pirate nemesis Art Nehf struck out Cuyler to end the game and eliminate the Pirates.
The Pirates finished three behind the Giants and one-and-one-half behind Brooklyn in third place. The team was also third in runs scored, but the first place Giants had outscored them 857-724, which more than made up for the difference in team ERA’s as the Pirates were second behind the Reds at 3.24 compared to New York’s third place 3.64.
Surprisingly, Cuyler was the only regular with the team all season to hit .300 finishing at .354. A late season slump had dropped Wright down to .287, but he finished tied in for third in the league with 111 rbi’s. Conversely, Traynor finished the season well to boost his mark to .294, while Carey hit .297 and led the league with 49 steals.
Part-timer Moore ended at .359. With Cuyler, Traynor, Maranville, Bigbee and Wright joining Carey in double figures, the Pirates led the NL in steals with 181.
Cooper led the mound staff with 20 wins, while rookies Kremer and Yde finished 18-10 and 16-3 respectively. Meadows, though, was only 13-12 and Johnny Morrison fell from 25-13 to 11-16, amid talk he was spending more energy pursuing a good time than good pitching.By Pirates Encyclopedia
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- Bill McKechnie, Carson Bigbee, Earl Hamilton, Earl Kunz, Earl Smith, Eddie Moore, Emil Yde, George Boehler, Glenn Wright, Johnny Morrison, Kiki Cuyler, Max Carey, Pie Traynor, Rabbit Maranville, Ray Kremer, Reb Russell, Spencer Adams, Walter Schmidt, Wilbur Cooper