Although he was on his best behavior in 1924 and led the National League in fielding after being moved to secondbase the previous spring, Rabbit Maranville had been a diamond crested thorn in the side of owner Barney Dreyfuss since shortly after the glove wizard had been obtained prior to the 1921 season. His off field escapades had sickened Barney and the magnate had unsuccessfully been trying to trade him for over a year when the Chicago Cubs, needing a replacement for the fragile shortstop Charlie Hollocher agreed to a six player move in October, 1924. The Cubs obtained Maranville, his fun-loving companion, Charlie Grimm, and the Pirates all-time winningest pitcher, Wilbur Cooper for curveball specialist Vic Aldridge, strong hitting but poor fielding George Grantham and hot firstbase prostpect Al Niehaus.
Most fans and media critics felt the Pirates had given up too much. Aside from Maranville’s defense and Cooper’s winning left arm, Grimm was a gold-glove type firstbaseman and a decent hitter. While Cooper had been in the league twice as long as Aldridge, the portsider was less than two years older than the 15-game winning righthander. Grantham had hit .318 in 1924 but was one of the weaker defensive regulars in the league, earning the unflattering nickname “Boots.” Niehaus was untried. However, John McGraw expressed a difference of opinion. He did not believe Cooper, a flyball pitcher, would do as well in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field as he had done in spacious Forbes Field. He also noted Aldridge had been a consistent winner with a mediocre club and would fare better with the strong Pittsburgh offense behind him.
Still, the trade looked even worse to Pirate fans when Aldridge held out until just before the season opened and took over a month to round into shape and McKechnie announced that Grantham would not be assured of a starting birth, but rather would compete for a position in the Pirates’ crowded outfield. Only Niehaus, who had hit .362 at AA Chatanooga with 11 homeruns would likely be in the lineup opening day.
With Maranville gone, the Pirates gave the secondbase job to Eddie Moore, a .359 hitter as a reserve the year before. As a backup, the Pirates obtained Fresco Thompson, the son of a friend of Dreyfuss and a .317 hitter at Omaha for pitcher Arnold Stone. In a cost-cutting move, Walter Schmidt was given his release. The 37-year-old catcher was reportedly earning a surprising $12,000 salary which made him expendable when coupled with the play of Earl Smith and the emergence of Johnny Gooch.
The Bucs broke camp with what the youngest team in the major leagues, both in age and experience. One man who certainly was not lacking experience was pitcher Babe Adams, who was thought by some to have made the club as much on sentiment as skill. McKechnie and Dreyfuss both showed optimism for their young team. McKechnie stated he believed this group of players would give their best effort all the time, indicating the opposite had been true of some of the players who had moved on. He also attempted to make sure of it, by setting stronger rules for the players, forbidding drinking and late night poker games. While finally rid of the Four Free Spirits from the 1921 team, Deacon Bill still had “Jughandle” Johnny Morrison as one of the pitchers he was counting on. Morrison, a 25-game winner in 1923 had slumped to 11-16 in 1924 and he was referred to in the polite language of the time as not taking the game seriously enough. The harder stance was something new for McKechnie who had reportedly never fined or suspended a player in his previous years as manager. Dreyfuss went even further in his demonstration of optimism. Putting his money where his mouth was, he announced the addition of 10,000 seats to Forbes Field, which would increase capacity to 35,000 and shorten the rightfield line to 300 feet.
At first, one must have thought an extra 10,000 people not go to any games as the Pirates got off to a poor start, losing the opener to the Cubs 8-2 and starting the season 2-5. Niehaus was injured during the first week and without an experienced backup, McKechnie experimented by moving Grantham to first and the Kansas native impressed spectators with his glove, but during their cold beginning, the young infield’s overall play was called into question and the pitching, other than Lee Meadows, was poor.
The team continued to limp near the bottom of the league with a 6-14 record in early May. Neither Grantham or Niehaus were hitting and the Bucs fell into last place on May 10. Some batters, such as Moore (.397), Kiki Cuyler (.364) and Glenn Wright (.333) were hitting well, but the staff remained in disarray. To illustrate the Bucs’ frustration, Wright became only the fifth player in history to perform an unassisted triple play on May 7, but the Pirates lost to the Cards 10-9 anyways. Aldridge finally started a game, but was beaten by the lowly Phillies and Niehaus, hitting only .212 was permanently benched.
Then the team and, in particular, leftfielder Clyde Barnhart got hot. The stocky righthanded hitter embarked on a 25 game hitting streak raising his average to .368, third on the team trailing Cuyler (.376), who was also leading the entire league in runs scored, and Wright (.370). The Club climbed to respectability at 15-16, but the pitching remained erratic. Ray Kremer and Morrison began to come around, but Yde and Aldridge were not winning.
A strong eastern trip served notice to the league that the Pirates could not be counted out so early, however. The swing was highlighted by an extra inning win over the firstplace New York Giants when Traynor scorched a double off the shins of firstbaseman Bill Terry and scored on Grantham’s single. On May 26, team captain Max Carey stole second, third and home to help the club win and a few days later, the Pirates swept a doubleheader from the Cardinals to move into third place.
Seeking to add veteran experience and a righthanded bat to compliment Grantham at first, the Pirates signed Stuffy McInnis, a 17-year American League firstbaseman and lifetime .300 hitter. McInnis was also one of the top fielding firstbasemen of his time and had played in four World Series. He had hit .291 for the Red Sox in 1924, but was unable to reach and agreement on a contract with Boston, who released him when they were unable to trade him.
The Bucs then added another pitcher by sending Niehaus to the Reds in exchange for Tom Sheehan, a starter/reliever who had gone 9-11 for Cincinnati in 1924, but who had been struggling in his first 10 appearances of 1925 with an ERA of 8.07.
Another significant addition to the team would be a man who would not play in a game in 1925, but would have an impact. Fred Clarke, star outfielder and manager of the team during its glory days two decades before was in town to prepare for a unique exhibition game, one featuring the players of the 1900 Pirates taking on the current team.
Clarke had remained close to Dreyfuss over the years and had assisted the team at times during spring training. The former star player/manager used the occasion to purchase a small interest in the team and was named a special assistant to Dreyfuss becoming something akin to the modern bench coach. McKechnie expressed no objection, at least in print, to having Clarke assigned to him, and when the team play improved to move past Brooklyn into second place, Clarke’s appointment was viewed favorably. Everyone on the Pirates seemed to be hitting. Among the regulars, only Traynor was under .333. The teams’ batting average swelled to .323 and the Pirates, acknowledged as the fastest team in the league, was becoming its highest scorer.
Opposing pitchers began to try to rattle the team and rumors began to circulate that Cuyler, in particular, was being targeted. If it was true, the attack on Kiki and his teammates was futile as they continued their line drive ways.
Each day there seemed to be another Pirate making his enemies walk the plank. Against the Boston Bees, Yde not only pitched the team to victory, but contributed a single, double and triple and scored three runs. In late June, the Pirates swept four strait from the Giants. In the process, Grantham and Giants hurler Jack Scott ignited a brawl when Grantham threw his bat at the pitcher after Scott hit him with a pitch. The fighting spirit of the Pirates was hailed as a change in attitude over what had been perceived as a group of inexperienced players who might be intimidated. Meadows became the first pitcher in the league to reach ten wins on June 20 and in back to back games later that week, the Pirates scored 25 runs agains Brooklyn and 24 against the Cubs. In the first game, Carey hit for the cycle while Cuyler hit two homeruns, a triple and a single.
While the Pirate attack was formidable even by the high hitting standards of the day, reports from the West Coast said the Pirates were a leading candidate in the bidding to secure the services of Pacific Coast League star Paul Waner from the San Francisco Seals, although it was likely the deal would not be consummated until after the season.
On June 29, the Pirates took over first place behind an 8-1 win by Johnny Morrison and four hits by Wright. A big five-game series in New York was scheduled next for the “Freebooters,” but two of the games were rained out. New York one the opener 8-6, scoring two off Sheehan and Adams in the eighth. Yde stopped the Giants in the first game of a double header, but the Giants beat Morrison behind a young no-name, Wayland Dean in the second to move into a first place tie as the series ended.
Poor play against the weak Phillies and Bees in Mid-July kept the Pirates from taking over. Several hitters, most notably Barnhart, fell into slumps and it was the Pirate pitching, as Aldridge began to pick up his pace, and Kremer and Morrison improved their consistency, which kept the Pirates tied with New York.
The team’s hitting returned and so did its fighting spirit. Frustrated by the club’s play against Boston, Cuyler criticized his roommate Johnny Gooch after the catcher had called for a pitch hit for a homerun by the Bees’ Dave Harris in the top of the tenth inning of a game which appeared to be headed in the loss column for the Pirates. Gooch erupted and the two engaged in fisticuffs before McKechnie and Clarke quickly separated them. The Bucs rallied in the bottome half of the inning, winning on a hit by Cuyler. The papers saw the fight as a sign the team wanted to win more than its fun-seeking predecessors had from 1921-1924.
On August 1, the Pirates and Giants remained in a virtual tie and the Reds who had played exceptionally well in July moved to within five games of the lead. With the deepest staff in the league, Cincinnati could not be counted out. But during a series with Brooklyn, the Pirates beat Dazzy Vance, a pitcher who had long had their number, for the second time in 1925. It was especially sweet as Vance had beaten his other opponents nine strait times during that span. On August 6, third string catcher Roy Spencer singled in two in the ninth for a 10-9 comeback win, highlighted by a fight between two future Hall of Famers, Carey and the Robins’ Burleigh Grimes. The incident started when Carey was caught in a rundown and pushed Grimes, who was blocking his path without the ball, out of his way.
Grimes retaliated by punching Carey in the face. The Robin was ejected and fined $200. The Pirates completed their four game sweep the next day by taking a double header, scoring five in the eigth inning of game one and the same total in the seventh of game two to cap two more comeback wins. The Giants, now struggling, had fallen five games back, but the Pirates weren’t ready to celebrate, remembering their slide in 1921. Having only Yde to pitch from the leftside, the Bucs traded minor leaguer Lou Koupal to Des Moines for 31-year-old Red Oldham, who had pitched for Detroit over parts of five seasons fashioning a less than impressive 34-44 record, and who had not pitched in a major league game in three years.
The Giants won during an off-day for the Pirates, and the two prepared to square off with the Bucco lead at 4 ½ games. New York won the first game with Scott outdueling Meadows to decrease the lead to 3 ½, but Morrison evened the series at a game apiece as he contributed a key basehit during another five run eighth inning winning 7-4. Yde won game three, 5-3, but the Giants won the finale, 4-1. While earning the split, the series was seen as a success for the Pirates as the Giants failed to advance in the standings. The teams met again in late August at the Polo Grounds and the Pirates dealt the Giants a virtual death blow.
The Bucs opened the series by sweeping a doubleheader, winning 8-1 behind Meadows and 2-1 behind Aldridge and a two run blast by Wright. After losing 7-4 the next day, McKechnie’s men won 3-2. Morrison got the win, but it was the relief work of Oldham, who pitched three shutout innings, which got the notices. Kremer took his turn as star in the final game, easily handling the powerful Giant hitters. During the series, Johnny Rawlings was asked to take over at second for Moore and he responded by playing excellent ball down the stretch until his season prematurely ended with a broken ankle.
The Pirates enjoyed an excellent eastern swing, going 16-3 and at one point winning nine in a row, but a three game sweep by the Cubs delayed the pennant celebration for a few more days. The team got hot again and clinched the pennant while on another winning streak. The champagne opener was a 2-1 victory over the Phillies as Yde and Sheehan allowed only seven hits, but the game was not decided until its final play. The Phillies loaded the bases with one out when Wright made a fantastic over the shoulder catch in short leftfield and turned to throw out George Durning who was trying to score.
Although McKechnie was lavish in his praise for the teamwork displayed by his hoard of heroes after the game, Cuyler had certainly put up MVP numbers and finished the year at .357 with eighteen homeruns, a league leading 26 triples (the highest total of the lively ball era) and 43 doubles. His teammates helped him to score 144 runs, the top figure in the league and he returned the favor by knocking in 102 runs. His rbi total was surpassed by three teammates, Wright (121), Barnhart (114) and Traynor (106). Cuyler’s 220 hits led the team and was third in the league. His 41 stolen bases trailed only his teammate, the master thief himself, Max Carey, who swiped 46. The entire Pirate lineup, except for Moore, hit .308 or better, and Moore just missed the .300 mark at .298.
Platoon firstbaseman Stuffy McInnis batted .368 in 155 at bats while backup catcher Gooch ended at .298 and Rawlings .282 before his season came to an early and painful end.
As a team, the hitters led the league in runs, hits, doubles, triples, rbi’s, walks, stolen bases, batting and slugging. The 1925 Pirates were by far the most dominent offensive team in baseball and they outscored NL runner up St. Louis by 84 runs.
The pitching, while not as destructive, was second in the league in ERA at 3.87. Meadows led the team with 19 wins, while Kremer, Morrison and Yde each had 17 and Aldridge won eight in a row to finish 15-7. The staff was deep and experienced and the lesser used pitchers, Adams, Oldham and Sheehan combined to go 10-7 and Dreyfuss finally had the last laugh on his hated rival John McGraw as the Pirates won the pennant by 8 ½ games.
Although Cuyler finished second to the .400 hitting Rogers Hornsby in the Most Valuable Player voting, the Pirates dominated The Sporting News All-Star Team. Joining Cuyler was his fellow outfielder Carey, shortstop Wright and thirdbaseman Traynor. Aldridge was named to the second team. All four of Cuyler’s illustrious teammates also received MVP votes as Wright finished fourth in the balloting and Traynor seventh and Carey ninth.
Aldridge collected a vote as well. It was a successful season as the team finally moved past the highjinks and sorrows of the past four years which saw the Pirates produce exciting, but in the end frustrating teams and paved the way for an incredible World Series victory over the defending champion Washington Senators.By Pirates Encyclopedia
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- Al Niehaus, Babe Adams, Barney Dreyfuss, Bill McKechnie, Charlie Grimm, Charlie Hollocher, Clyde Barnhart, Eddie Moore, Emil Yde, Forbes Field, Fred Clarke, Fresco Thompson, George Grantham, Glenn Wright, Johnny Gooch, Johnny Morrison, Kiki Cuyler, Lee Meadows, Pie Traynor, Rabbit Maranville, Ray Kremer, Roy Spencer, Stuffy McInnis, Tom Sheehan, Vic Aldridge, Walter Schmidt, Wilbur Cooper, Wrigley Field