Tag Archives: Ira Thomas

“The Twenty Greatest Fever”

2 Oct

In November of 1911, an interviewer asked industrialist Andrew Carnegie to name the 20 greatest men of all time.  Within days, Carnegie’s list was parsed and picked apart, and led to what The Chicago Daily News called “The twenty greatest fever.”

Lists of the twenty greatest everything appeared in papers across the country for the next year.  Of course, the question was put to many baseball figures and led to a number of interesting lists and quotes.

One of the first to weigh in was Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, in The Daily News:

  • Buck Ewing
  • King Kelly
  • Cap Anson
  • Charlie Ferguson
  • Fred Pfeffer
  • Eddie Collins
  • Honus Wagner
  • Jack Glasscock
  • Harry Lord
  • Ty Cobb
  • Fred Clarke
  • Willie Keeler
  • Tom McCarthy
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Charles Radbourn
  • Bobby Caruthers
  • Christy Mathewson
  •  Clark Griffith
  • Ed Walsh
comiskeypix

Charles Comiskey

Comiskey said Eddie Collins, who would acquire for $50,000 three years later, was the best current player:

“He’s got it on all the others in the game today.  I don’t know that a good lawyer went to waste, but do know that a mighty good ballplayer was found when Eddie decided to give up the technicalities of Blackstone for the intricacies of baseball.   There isn’t much use saying anything about Connie Mack’s star, everybody knows he is a wonder as well as I do.”

Cy Young was asked by The Cleveland News to name his 20 greatest:

“I guess we’d have to make a place for old Amos Rusie, ‘Kid’ Nichols should be placed on the list too, ‘Kid’ forgot more baseball than 90 percent of us ever knew.  And there was Bill Hutchinson, just about one of the greatest that ever lived.  You can’t overlook Walter Johnson, and, by all means Ed Walsh must be there.  The same applies to Mathewson.  Then comes my old side partner, Bill Dinneen.  Bill never was given half enough credit.”

amosrusie

Amos Rusie

Young rounded out the battery:

“I’d pick old Lou Criger first of all the catchers.  George Gibson of the Pittsburgh team, to my way of thinking, stands with the leaders.  Give the third place to Oscar Stanage of Detroit, and I feel safe in saying that I have chosen a really great catcher.”

Young said:

“Doping out the infields is comparatively easy.  Without hesitation I would name Hal Chase, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Hans Wagner, Bobby Wallace, Jimmy Collins, Herman Long, and Charlie Wagner.”

Young said of his infield choices:

“You can’t get away from Bobby Wallace for a general all round gentlemanly player, he has never had a superior at shortstop unless that man was Honus Wagner.  Maybe Johnny Evers is entitles to consideration, but I never say him play.”

As for his outfielders, Young said:

“Ty Cobb’s equal never lived, according to my way of thinking, and I doubt if we will ever have his superior.  Say what they will about Cobb, but one who is true to himself must acknowledge his right to rank above all other players.

“I chose Cobb, Fred Clarke of Pittsburgh, Tris Speaker of Boston and Bill Lange for the outfield, and regret that the limitations prevent me from choosing Jim McAleer.  McAleer was the best fielder I have ever seen.  I say that with all due respect to Cobb and other competitors.

“Tris Speaker is a marvel, and only because of his playing at the same time as Cobb is he deprived of the honor of being the greatest outfielder…Many fans of today probably don’t remember Bill Lange.  Take my word for it, he was a marvel.  He could field, bat, and run bases with wonderful skill.  No man ever had the fade-away slide better than Lange.”

The reporter from The News noticed that Young had, “chosen his twenty greatest players without mentioning his own great deeds,” and asked Young whether her felt he belonged on the list.  Young said:

“Oh, I’ve heard a whole lot of stuff about myself as a player, but I was but ordinary when compared to the men I name as the greatest in the game.”

cy

Cy Young

When Ty Cobb presented his list of the 20 greatest current American League players to The Detroit News, the paper noted his “Very becoming modesty” in leaving himself off of his list.  Cobb’s picks were:

  • Ed Walsh
  • Bill Donovan
  • Walter Johnson
  • Jack Coombs
  • Vean Gregg
  • George Mullin
  • Billy Sullivan
  • Oscar Stanage
  • Ira Thomas
  • Hal Chase
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Eddie Collins
  • Jack Berry
  • Owen Bush
  • Frank Baker
  • Harry Lord
  • Sam Crawford
  • Clyde Milan
  • Joe Jackson
  • Tris Speaker
cobb

Ty Cobb

Cobb included Bobby Wallace, Russ Ford, and Heinie Wagner as honorable mentions.

More of the lists and quotes from “The twenty greatest fever,” on Thursday

One Minute Talk: Jack Coombs

21 Oct

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

With the Brooklyn Robins in first place by four games after beating the Boston Braves 5 to 2 on August 14, Jack Coombs said:

Coombs

Coombs

“Baseball is a peculiar game.  The life is hard and the game fast but there is a fascination about it that just holds one.  There is something that comes of matching your eye against a sweeping curveball that can be found in no other game in the world. Once you get inside the flannels you hate to lay them aside.

“We Brooklyn men should win this pennant.  We have a fair lead and at the clip we are traveling should not have much trouble in holding our position.

“We arrived at the top through good baseball and no one can down us.  However, there are 55 games to  play and accidents may cut us down.”

The “Brooklyn men,” managed to hang on to first place through the final 55 games, beating the Boston Braves by two and a half games.

Coombs, who won 80 games for the Philadelphia Athletics between 1910 and 1912, missed nearly all of the next two seasons battling typhoid fever.  Signed as a free agent by Brooklyn in 1915–he was 15-10 2.58 that season and was 13-8 with a 2.66 ERA for the 1916 pennant winners; he posted Brooklyn’s only victory in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox–a 4 to 3 victory in game 3.

Coombs was also true to his observation that “Once you get inside the flannels you hate to lay them aside.”  After a brief, unsuccessful tenure as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1919, Coombs was a coach for the Detroit Tigers in 1920. He then spent the next 32 years as a college baseball coach at Williams College, Princeton, and Duke–remaining in the game until he was forced to retire from Duke at the age of 70.

Coombs at Williams College, 1921

Coombs at Williams College, 1921

When he arrived at Williams, in Williamstown, Massachusetts in the spring of 1921, The New York Tribune said Coombs, having discovered that “training rules had not been observed,” by Williams players in previous years–the two previous coaches at Williams were former teammates of Coombs with the Athletics, Ira Thomas, and Harry Davis, “(A)sked the student body to encourage the members of the squad to train, to criticise them if they did not, and to help them with their studies.”

 

“Chief” Bender’s Catcher

3 Sep

Umpire Billy Evans, in one of his syndicated newspaper columns in the fall of 1910, said: “Most every ball player is more or less superstitious, but the pitchers, I believe, are more susceptible to beliefs uncanny than any of the other diamond athletes.”

Evans singled out Charles “Chief” Bender, who had just completed a 23-5 season with a 1.58 ERA for the World Champion Philadelphia Athletics, as one of the most “susceptible.”

Chief Bender

Chief Bender

According to Evans, Bender preferred throwing to catcher Ira Thomas over the team’s other two catchers Jack Lapp and Paddy Livingston:

“Bender has won lots of games with other catchers doing the receiving, but he never seems quite so steady as when Thomas is paired up with him.”

Evans said the preference extended to warming up as well:

“While there are scores and scores of pitchers who have their favorite catchers, still they are content to let one of the other receivers warm them up between innings, but not so with the Chief.  When Bender starts a game he absolutely refuses to throw to anyone other than Thomas.

“It is often the case that when the side is retired, the catcher happens to be a base runner.  Naturally much time is consumed by him in hurrying from the base he occupied to the bench to get his mask, glove and protector, and then back to the plate.  It is customary for most managers under such circumstances, to send one of the other catchers up to the plate to keep the pitcher warmed up.  I have seen Bender refuse at least a dozen times during the past summer to warm up with one of the Athletics other than Thomas.  He waits for Ira and takes a chance on getting cold in preference to putting the “jinx” on himself by tossing the ball to someone else.”

Bender's favorite catcher Ira Thomas

Bender’s favorite catcher Ira Thomas

The feeling was mutual.  In a 1911 article in The Pittsburgh Press, Thomas, who in addition to Bender also caught Jack Coombs (31-9, 1.30 ERA), Cy Morgan (18-12, 1.55 ERA), and Eddie Plank (16-10, 2.01 ERA) in 1910, said of Bender:

“I don’t take my hat off to…any other pitcher when Chief Bender is around.  He is a wonder of wonders.  No one can show me where there is a better pitcher in general.

“Bender has everything a pitcher needs and in a series of seven games he is almost invincible.”

Thomas remained with the Athletics organization for another 40 years as a coach, minor league manager and scout; he finished his scouting career with the Yankees, retiring in 1956.  He died in 1958.

Bender left Philadelphia in 1914 when he jump the Athletics for the Federal League; he returned to the Athletics organization in the 1930s.  He died in 1954.

Bender and Thomas shared a baseball card--the 1912 T202 Hassan Triple Folder

Bender and Thomas shared a baseball card–the 1912 T202 Hassan Triple Folder

The two remained close for the rest of their lives and often appeared together at baseball banquets.  One story Bender always told; the “greatest thrill” of his career, his May 12, 1910 no-hitter against the Cleveland Naps (this version was related in The Trenton Evening Times in 1936).  With two outs in the ninth Cleveland’s Elmer Flick hit a pop-up in front of home plate, the ball initially popped out of Thomas’ mitt before he secured it for the final out:

“Watching Ira juggle that ball and then hold it was my greatest thrill.”