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The Year They Took the Rabbit Out of the Ball
The Phillies had a new look, and a better team in 1931. Fourteen games better than the 1930 team at 66-88, but nowhere near good enough to compete with the league’s best. They climbed out of the cellar to finish in 6th place, 35 games behind the high flying St. Louis Cardinals.
The big story in 1931, and indeed the big question was: “What have they done to the baseball?” There could be no question that something was changed; the evidence was all over the place: (1) League ERA, 1930 – 4.97, 1931 – 3.86 (2) League homerun total, 1930 – 892, 1931 – 493 (3) League batting average, 1930 – .303, 1931 - .277.
It was the same for the Phillies (1) ERA, 1930 – 6.71, 1931 – 4.58 (2) Homerun total, 1930 – 126, 1931 – 81 (3) Batting average, 1930 - .315, 1931 - .279.
Changed ball or not, Chuck Klein was still one of the league’s best hitters; he came close to winning the triple crown, leading the league in homeruns (31), and RBIs (121), and finishing fourth in batting average (.337). And wonder of wonders, the Phillies had a pitcher among the league’s best – James Thomas, at 6’3”, 230 pounds, they called him “Jumbo”, Elliot. The big guy won 19 games (14 losses, five saves, ERA 4.27), tied for the league lead with Heinie Meine of Pittsburgh, and “Wild Bill” Hallahan of St. Louis.
The team had a winning record at home (40-36), but was awful on the road (26-52). Who could explain that in home games, the Phillies outscored their opponents by 72-52 in the first inning, while on the road the first inning run totals were reversed (36-54)?
Attendance was off, but only by a few thousand, it seemed that people wanted to see winning more than they wanted to see high-scoring losses. And speculation had it that the success of the A’s (3rd straight pennant) raised Baseball interest all over town to the Phillies’ benefit.