“A Catcher is the Most Important man on a Team”

16 Oct

Lou Criger was very confident when he joined the St. Louis Browns in 1909.  He spoke to S. Carlisle Martin, the cartoonist for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who occasionally interviewed notables and published the story with a series of drawings:

“A catcher is the most important man on a team…a poor catcher can spoil the good work of any pitcher and a live, brainy catcher can make an ordinary pitcher look good…Another point:  The catcher has the whole game in front of him.  Besides tipping the pitcher off on the different batters as they come up—signaling for a high or low one, one close in and one away out, the catcher must keep one eye on the runner all the time.  And there’s where many a game is lost, letting the runners go wild.”

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Criger as drawn by Martin

Then, Criger decided to take on Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers:

“Why they tell you that Ty Cobb is a great base runner.  Maybe he is, but I never had any trouble with him.  Why he only got away with me twice in the two years that I have been playing against him>  Most of his good base running I call bone-headed work.  And one of those two times he tried the delayed steal, that is, starting when he thought I was going to return the ball to the pitcher, and then I had him by 20 feet, but the second baseman was away from the bag and waited for him, and Cobb slid away round and stuck his foot on the bag.

“No, I’ve got his ‘goat’ and I’ve got the rest of the Tiger bunch, too.  Cobb tried to block me last summer and I went after him and have been after him ever since.  I used to say to him: ‘Look out, Ty, this fellow is as wild as hawk and he’s liable to crack you on the head.’  And then I’d signal for one right at his head.  Bing!  Down he’d drop and when he’d get up the fight was all out of him, he couldn’t hit a stationary balloon.

“You know you can kid a batter until he won’t know where he’s at.  I pestered (the Tigers) so much that they came around and begged me to let up.  They said we had nothing to gain and they might lose the pennant.

“You see, (Boston) made the Tigers look like 30 cents last fall in Detroit when we beat ‘em three straight ( Detroit went from being in second place, a half game out to third and two and a half back after losing a three-game series to the Red Sox September 21-23, 1908) (Hughey) Jennings wouldn’t even get off the bench.”

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Criger said he had ‘Ty Cobb’s Goat”

Criger was just as cocky concerning the Browns prospects for 1909; he said it was likely his final season and he could go out a winner:

“If we got an even break in the luck and our best players are not injured, they’ll have to go some to beat us out…and I feel that we will hang in on Jennings’ bunch.”

Criger’s handicapping was off.  The Tigers went 98-54 to win the pennant—including beating the Browns18 out of 21 games—Cobb hit .351 against the Browns and stole bases. The Browns finished 61-89 in seventh place.  Criger hit just .170 in 74 games and was traded to the New York Highlanders after the 1909 season.

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