To be one of “the haves.” It is a thought which many Pirate fans of the past ten years have experienced. Yet in the cycle of major league baseball history, there were certainly times when the Pirates were one of the teams which not only competed on even footing, but were one of the franchises envied by the management and fans of other cities.
The champagne of celebrating a World Championship had hardly been wiped from the eyes of the players when Barney Dreyfuss announced he had purchased outfielder Paul Waner and secondbaseman Hal Rhyne from the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League for the then eye-opening sum of $100,000. Waner, a linedrive, lefthanded hitter had led the PCL with a .401 average and the New York Yankees were said to have wanted him badly.
Rhyne came with a reputation as a strong defensive player and had hit .314. There were scouts that felt he was the better all-around player of the two. Both would compete, but not be assured of starting jobs with the World Champions as so deep was the team’s talent, that there appeared to be no hole in the lineup. What wasn’t detected though were cracks which were forming and which would undermine the foundation of the team and prove such a distraction that by the time the 1926 season ended the team would be minus its team captain, two of the most impressive figures in its history and its manager as well.
The first players to go from the 1925 squad were little used infielder Fresco Thompson and outfielder Mule Haas, a late season call-up. Both players later had respectable careers with other teams, but Waner and Rhyne crowded them off the roster. Other youngsters competed in spring training for playing time, most notably infielder Joe Cronin and pitcher Alvin Crowder. Stuffy McInnis strongly backed Cronin, who had been in camp in 1925 but had failed to make the team. He would in 1926, but his Pirate career was short and not noteworthy. Crowder’s Pirate career never got off the ground. The righthander drew the raves of newspaper reporters, but was returned to Birmingham when Dreyfuss felt the Birmingham management went back on their word about how much they would be compensated if Crowder made the team. The move proved shortsighted as Crowder instead was sold to Washington and eventually established himself as one of the American League’s better pitchers, going 167-115 in an 11 year career.
Among the stars of the 1925 team, Captain Max Carey was slow in recovering from the rib and ligament injuries he sustained in the World Series. Bill McKechnie replaced him not with Waner, but veteran Carson Bigbee, as the Pirates opened the season. Bigbee though didn’t hit. For that matter, neither did many of his teammates as the Bucs started their World Title defense 3-9. Carey, appearing in nine of the games, hit .063 and the team just .194.
Waner had had a decent spring, but did not hit well enough early on to capture a regular birth, but began playing more as Clyde Barnhart also was off to a poor start.
Although the outfield remained in doubt well into May, Kiki Cuyler (.347) and Pie Traynor (.339) were providing some offense as the Pirates raised their team average to .266 and their record back to .500, due mostly to the team’s pitching. Johnny Morrison was performing particularly well on the mound and by the end of the month, the Pirates moved to within six games of the first place Reds.
In mid-June, propelled by Cuyler, who took over the league lead in hitting, the defending champions moved into secondplace, but the pitching depth was showing some problems. The Pirates tried to pry away Doug McWeany and Bob McGraw from the Robins, but were unwilling to give Brooklyn both Eddie Moore and an outfielder.
Morrsion began to experience some type of problems and Tom Sheehan, ineffective all year, was released. Lee Meadows, trying to rebound from a sore arm which kept him on the sidelines for most of the 1925 World Series was erratic and the best the Pirates could add was Chet Nichols from the minor leagues. It might have been different if the Pirates had lost just one more game.
The Chicago Cubs were looking to move pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, once one of baseball’s all-time greats. Alexander could still pitch, but his alcoholism had reached a point where he was more trouble to the Cubs, a young team trying to build, than he was worth. The leagues top contenders though, the Pirates, Giants and Cardinals all realized Alex the Great was still Alex the Very Good when his condition allowed him to be. All three teams put in a waiver claim on Alexander and it appeared the Pirates would be awarded the pitcher based on the fact that they trailed the two teams in the standings. But the Bucs defeated the Cards to move ahead of them on the day of the waiver claim and Alexander was awarded to St. Louis.
As usually happens, frustration on the field led to frustration in the clubhouse. Vic Aldridge and Glenn Wright reportedly came to blows which led to Wright being removed from a game with an injury. Besides Wright and Carey who was having the worst hitting year of his long career, Moore, Pie Traynor and Johnny Gooch all missed time with injuries Finally McKechnie placed Waner in the lineup every day and he joined Cuyler in giving the team at least two good hitting outfielders. The Bucs also tried to make up for losing out on Alexander by obtaining another former winner, Bullet Joe Bush from the American League.
The team somehow remained in contention despite all this and despite what McKechnie saw as lackluster play from Moore and Emil Yde. Both players were fined and for Moore it proved to be the final straw for his Pirate career. The secondbaseman who had hit a game winning homerun in Game 6 of the previous year’s World Series had never been thought of as a strong defensive secondbaseman and had incurred Dreyfuss’s wrath the previous fall by expressing displeasure with the contract he had been sent. Now having alienated McKechnie as well, the infielder was waived to Boston. Fans, however, did not take kindly to the transaction and criticized Dreyfuss for again “cutting off his nose to spite his face.”
Aldridge, too, was fined when he changed into his street clothes after being taken out of a game. Things still did not get any better, but somehow the team still won enough games to stay in the race. Morrison, claiming injury left the team and was suspended and even with the team hurting for pitching, the Bucs released the man who stood on the mound for the final out of the 1925 World Series, Red Oldham, as his ERA ballooned to 5.57.
Young hitters, like Cronin and Fred Brickell, an outfielder were added, and a lefthanded pitcher, Don Songer, was throwing alright, but not winning enough. “Recuperating” from his home in Kansas City, Morrison informed the Pirates he had a broken arm and sent a report from a doctor to confirm this. The doctor later confirmed that he had set the arm of a pitcher named Morrison, but it was Carl Morrsion, Johnny’s brother. The name “Jughandle Johnny” better described the problems the pitcher was having according to the Pirates side of the story.
Morrison’s antics and the clubs’ overall pitching aside, Remy Kremer was having a strong year and when Meadows’ arm started to allow him to complete more games McKechnie was at least able to send out two strong pitchers every four days or so. This coupled with a batting surge by several of the regulars (George Grantham, .353; Traynor, .343; Cuyler, .340; Earl Smith, .337; Waner, .336 and Wright .321) actually moved the team into first place by a few percentage points in late July and the team remained on top into August.
Barney Dreyfuss, ever an involved owner, decided to take some time off that summer to tour Europe with his wife. While he was gone, he named Fred Clarke acting-president. Clarke had received some credit for the team’s success the previous summer when he joined the club in mid-season and assisted Manager McKechnie on the bench.
During the second game of a double header, Clarke told McKechnie he needed to get Carey out of the game as the outfielder’s struggles were continuing. McKechnie, noting the lack of depth in the outfield, stated, “Who should I put in there? I don’t have anybody.” Clarke, depending on the source, said something like, “Anybody. I don’t care if you put the batboy in there.” Bigbee overheard the conversation and reported it to Carey, who was understandably upset, and called for a team meeting, the purpose of which was to allow the players to vote to see if they wanted Clarke to remain on the bench. Babe Adams, the much respected veteran of the pitching staff was asked his opinion, to which he made the general statement, “No one should tell the manager what to do.”
Carey later claimed McKechnie at first sanctioned the meeting, then cancelled it. The players voted anyways, and decided by an 18-6 margin that Clarke’s role would not change. In doing so, however, the roles of Carey, Bigbee and Adams drastically did. Sam Dreyfuss, running the business affairs of the team, released a statement saying that both he and McKechnie believed steps had to be taken as the “attack” on Clarke, who was also a stockholder in the team, “was unnecessary and unwarranted.” He went on to say that “such actions would cause trouble for the team, management and fans.” Bigbee and Adams, both bit players on the club, were released and Carey, who still had some value as a commodity, was waived to Brooklyn. While three other players voted against Clarke, it was said that they were young, inexperienced and most likely wrongly influenced by the veterans. The subtraction of the three became known as the A-B-C (Adams, Bigbee and Carey) Affair and cost the Pirates the three players on the roster who had been with them the longest. Fans sided with the players and newspapers noted the three had never been viewed as disloyal or rebellious men. Both Adams, in 1909, and Carey, less than 12 months before had been World Series heroes and were loved by Pirate fans. Carey later wrote, “Anything we did we did because we wanted the club to win…No team can win under two managers. That is not said with any special reference to Clarke for he and I are good friends…but for any club.”
On his way back from Europe, Barney Dreyfuss admitted sentimental feelings for the players who had been let go, but added that the team needed to focus instead on the pennant race, which was still up for grabs.
Amazingly, even with the controversy, the team remained ahead of Cincinnati by percentage points, .575 to .558. The Cardinals, with Alexander pitching as he had in his better days, were gaining quickly on the leaders and Carey extracted some revenge when he contributed two hits, walks and runs in Game 1 of a double-header loss to Brooklyn which dropped the Pirates out of first place on August 23. St. Louis took over the league lead that day and Pittsburghers became cried out even louder against the perceived injustices done to their former team captain. Now having to scramble for players, the team brought back Walt Mueller, a singles hitting outfielder, who’s chronic injuries had forced him to retire in 1924.
McKechnie continued to make adjustments. He moved Waner to the leadoff spot and settled on Rhyne batting second. Waner’s six for six performance against the Giants helped the Pirates sweep a series from New York and moved them once again atop the National League. Late in the year, the Pirates finally found a retread with some wear still left when it purchased Carmen Hill, 22-5, from Indianapolis. Hill, like Mueller, had also been a Pirate at one time. The pitcher had thrown for the Bucs unimpressively during the teens and had also failed in a trial with the Giants in ’22, but used mostly off-speed pitches to entangle NL hitters late in the season.
As September loomed, the Cardinals moved back into first, sweeping a double header behind WillieSherdel and Alan Sothern, 6-1 and 2-1. Kremer was hit for a 5-2 loss the next day. Hill temporarily stopped the leak by beating the fourth place Cubs 3-2 on September 3, but the Cubs swept another doubleheader the next day. The team continued to stagger against Chicago and St. Louis, before Kremer beat the Cardinals 4-2 on September 7. Aldridge, though was forced to leave the team to tend to his ailing father and the Cards moved four games up on the Corsairs by stomping them 8-0, again behind Sherdel. Young players like Cronin and Brickell were given a baptism under fire and responded well and Hill pitched another complete game win to keep the Pirates’ pennant hopes alive, but the team could mount no more of an attack and even before the Pirates were mathematically eliminated the team allowed Barnhart to finish his .196 season early and granted Johnny Rawlings also permission to go home as the club’s pulse flickered. Eliminated before the final weekend series, the Pirates dropped three in a row to sixthplace Brooklyn to fall into third place, 4 ½ behind St. Louis and 2 ½ behind the Reds.
To no one’s surprise, Dreyfuss quickly began to clean house. Stuffy McInnis, believed to have leaked word to the newspapers about the A-B-C vote after McKechnie had given quick orders that no one was to speak of it in the papers, was released. He landed on his feet in Philadelphia as the team’s new manager. McKechnie was not tendered a contract and Clarke’s stormy second tenure with the Pirates came to an end when the team repurchased his interests in the club and he again retired.
The A-B-C incident continued to be the most talked about issue in Pittsburgh sports during the offseason. It was reported that after the 1925 World Series, Clarke had not been voted a share of the money by the players, but Carey had intervened on his behalf and called for another vote. Carey gave his version of the incidents which led to his dismissal to the papers and also reported that part of the reason Moore had been released was that he had yelled at Clarke to get off the bench after the assistant had criticized his play.
Clarke denied the incident involving Moore and replied that he had told the players if they voted for him to leave the sidelines, he had agreed to do so. It leaves one to wonder the role the pride of two men who rank among the greatest figures in team history played in their leaving the organization.
The storm that surrounded the A-B-C affair may have distracted the team just enough to have cost them the pennant. The Bucs had been in first place at the time the problem occurred, but did not play as well afterwards. While the onfield contributions of Carey (.222), Bigbee (.221) and Adams (2-3, 6.08) were not significant, the three had been well-respected by their teammates and Carey had led the team not only by his talent, but by with his fortititude during the 1925 World Series, playing the final games with cracked ribs and a torn ligament in his right side.
1926 also saw poor years from Aldridge (10-13, 4.07)and Barnhart, who drove in only 10 runs in 203 at bats to go with his sub-.200 average. Yde went from 17-9 to 8-7 and Morrison was only 6-8 before going AWOL. Rhyne ended up hitting only .251, which was an improvement from the departed Moore (.227) and backup Rawlings (.232).
On the positive side was the emergence of Paul Waner, who certainly would have been the NL Rookie-of-the Year if such an award had existed. Waner batted .336, highest in the league for a player with over 500 at bats, with a league leading 22 triples and 35 doubles. He scored 101 runs. Cuyler not only led the team, but the league as well in runs scored with 113. He also assumed Carey’s role as the league’s top basestealer, sneaking off with 35 while batting .321. Grantham hit .318, Traynor .317 and Wright .308. Smith hit .346 in 292 at bats. McKechnie’s lineup changes helped the team finish second in the league in hitting, but no Pirate drove in 100 runs. The clubs’ overall numbers, in fact, weren’t all that bad on the mound as the Pirates tied St. Louis for third in ERA. Kremer (20-6, and a league leading 2.61 ERA) and Meadows (20-9, 3.96) carried the staff. The two tied the Cardinals Flint Rhem and the Reds’ Pete Donohue for most victories in the NL. Alexander, who won 9 games with a 2.92 ERA for the Cards might havebeen that number three man the club so sorely lacked. He went on to star in the World Series, winning Game 6 and
saving Game 7.
- Babe Adams, Barney Dreyfuss, Bill McKechnie, Carmen Hill, Carson Bigbee, Chet Nichols, Clyde Barnhart, Earl Smith, Eddie Moore, Emil Yde, Fred Clarke, Glenn Wright, Hal Rhyne, Johnny Morrison, Johnny Rawlings, Kiki Cuyler, Lee Meadows, Max Carey, Mule Haas, Paul Waner, Pie Traynor, Ray Kremer, Red Oldham, Stuffy McInnis, Tom Sheehan, Vic Aldridge, Walter Mueller