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Finding Pitching in 1904

The one thing the Pittsburgh Pirates learned from the 1903 World Series was that you can never have enough pitching. They had three healthy reliable starters going into October but by the time the World Series actually started they were down to one, Deacon Phillippe. The amount of work Sam Leever had during the season took a toll on him and by the time they reached October he wasn’t able to pitch effectively in the series against the Boston Americans. The loss of Ed Doheny meant the 1904 Pirates would not only need a pitcher to make up for his 16 wins in 1903 but they couldn’t reasonably expect Leever and Phillippe to combine for 50 wins again. So how did the Pirates handle the off-season going into 1904?

On the offensive side they returned their entire starting lineup along with their backup catcher, Harry Smith, so every position player they used during the eight game 1903 World Series returned for the following season. Backup infielder/outfielder Otto Krueger also returned for 1904, he played 80 games for the Pirates in 1903 but did not appear in any World Series games. You have to go all the way down to Art Weaver, who batted just 50 times over 16 games, to find the position player with the most time in 1903 that did not return to the Pirates the following season

The pitching was a different story though. Gone for 1904 were two veterans who got regular starting time, Kaiser Wilhelm and Brickyard Kennedy. They combined to make 24 starts and pitch over 200 innings in 1903 so along with Doheny, three of the top five pitchers in innings would need to be replaced, a combined 434 innings from just them. They also didn’t bring back Cy Falkenberg who pitched 56 innings but won just one game in 1903. He doesn’t seem like much of a loss with those numbers but he went on to have a long career and win another 129 games in the majors.

Gus Thompson threw 43 innings as a rookie in 1903 and was even used in the World Series once but he was not signed for the 1904 season. He instead pitched in the minors in Boise and won 20 games that year and two following years as well. He only pitched in the majors one other time, for the 1906 Cardinals. Lefty Lave Winham won three late seasons games for the Pirates and posted a 2.25 ERA as a 21 year old so it seems a bit surprising he wasn’t around for 1904 but he actually never pitched in pro ball again

To go with Phillippe and Leever from the 1903 club, the Pirates returned Bucky Veil, who pitched well in relief in game two of the WS but was seldom used during the 1903 season as a 21 year old rookie. They also returned rookie Doc Scanlan, who made just one late season start in 1903 in which he allowed seven runs and six walks. Lew Moran was a 20 year old rookie who also made just one start in 1903 and also allowed seven runs in a rain shortened six inning game, he too would return. Finally, not to be outdone, Jack Pfiester pitched three times in 1903 as a 25 year old rookie and he lost all three games. So all told, once you got past Leever and Phillippe, the Pirates returned four guys who went a combined 5-8 with all five wins coming from Veil, and that was it. They obviously needed to add at least two decent pitchers for the 1904 season if they were to compete.

Manager Fred Clarke needed arms and the first guy they brought in was actually with the team in October of 1903, but ineligible for the World Series due to the agreed upon rule that no one signed since September 1st would be allowed to play in the series. Roscoe Miller was a 27 year old pitcher with three years of major league experience coming into 1904. He had an incredible rookie season going 23-13 for the Detroit Tigers in 1901 but since then he went just 9-25 and was released by the New York Giants in August of 1903. He signed with the Pirates five weeks after his release and he would be the teams number three starter for the 1904 season, at least to start the year.

The Pirates added future star Howie Camnitz in 1904

Two weeks prior to the start of the season the Pirates realized that they needed more than three starters and a bunch of unproven rookies to compete in a strong NL in 1904 so they purchased Wyatt Lee from the Washington Senators. The 24 year old lefty had a 29-34 record in three seasons but he had just posted a 3.08 ERA in 1903 over 20 starts so he was better than any of the other options they had for that fourth rotation spot.

Finally, the also brought in a rookie pitcher they selected in the September 1903 rule V draft out of the minors named Howie Camnitz. As a 21 year old he went 26-7 in 1903 for the Vicksburg Hill Billies, but that was a D league team far from the majors in quality. He was Pittsburgh last resort pitcher for the 1904 season and a long way away from the pitcher he was from 1907-1912 when he won an average of 18 games a year for the Pirates.

The team was now set to start the 1904 season. Phillippe,Leever, Miller and Lee were the main starters and as you will see next week, the team didn’t sort out the rest of the pitching situation for the year during spring training. Just 13 games into the season they had already used eight starters and by the end of the year things would be very different in Pittsburgh.

Looking back on it, the off-season task of finding pitching could definitely be questioned as to whether they did enough or not. What they really went with was two stars who had outstanding seasons. Leever and Phillippe went 50-16 combined but not only had neither had seasons quite that good prior, the rest of the team went just 41-33 without them. When you get rid of Doheny too, the team was a .500 club going just 25-25. All they really added in Lee and Miller were two pitchers who showed glimpses of success but weren’t classified as reliable starters and neither were veterans like they had in Wilhelm and Kennedy in 1903. The Pirates pitching, which was considered strong during it’s three year pennant run, now lacked depth and was ranked well below the New York Giants, who finished 2nd in 1903 and the Chicago Cubs, who finished in 3rd place and both of those teams improved during the off-season.

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John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

1903 World Series: Game Eight

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The 1904 Pirates: Part One

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