Last week we saw how the Pirates prepared themselves for the 1904 season and they definitely started the season with some questions among their starting rotation. The team had a rough spring training, the weather was bad and when they reported to St Louis for opening day on April 15th it quickly became evident that they were behind schedule in their preparations for the season. They had early injury problems including Sam Leever making just one start in the team’s first 16 games.
The opening series saw Deacon Phillippe get a win in the opener but the two newcomers, Wyatt Lee and Roscoe Miller, were on the losing end in their first starts. Jack Pfiester won his first start in the first game in Cincinnati but in game two, Phillippe returned to the mound and took a beating as the Reds scored 18 runs, the highest run total the Pirates would allow in a game all season. Miller lost the last game of the series dropping the Pirates to 2-4 with the Reds now traveling to Pittsburgh for a four game series.
The Pirates knew early they were in trouble with their pitching and injuries and the four game series to open their home schedule was a sign of just how bad it could be. Just ten games into the season, the Pirates would use their 8th different starter as 1903 holdovers Bucky Veil and Bob Scanlan along with Sam Leever, would all make their first start of the season. For Veil it would not only be his only start of the year but he never pitched in the major leagues again. The Pirates were 4-6 now but they got a little help from the weather as rain and travel days postponed their 11th game of the season for six days. That allowed Phillippe to get rest after his horrible start and give Leever more time off without missing too many games.
Despite the time off, by game 13 the Pirates had to go to their 9th different starter as Howie Camnitz made his first major league start. He would be a major part of the 1907-1912 Pirates but in 1904 he was an overmatched rookie. His start also was the beginning point of a five game losing streak that dropped the Pirates into unfamiliar territory since the start of the 1901 season. On May 7th the Pirates were 5-12 and in 7th place in the NL. The worst part about the last three games of that losing streak is that their rotation was set going forward at that point and the losing pitchers in those games were Phillippe, Miller and Leever. Wyatt Lee was one of the early injuries the Pirates had to deal with. After his start in game three he did not return until game 27 on May 21st, which then gave the Pirates a four man rotation for a brief stretch.
The offensive side wasn’t any different, manager/left fielder Fred Clarke missed almost half the season and numerous starters had down years including first baseman Kitty Bransfield who would hit just .223 with no home runs on the year yet he still played 139 games. Honus Wagner had a good season hitting .349 with 53 steals but even he missed some playing time which led to more time for Otto Krueger, who would hit just .194 on the year, by far his worst season up to that point. Krueger not only didn’t hit but he was no longer stealing bases like he did in years prior plus he wasn’t know for his glove as he led NL 3B in errors in 1901 and led the entire NL in errors in 1902.
By early June the Pirates looked like they could be turning it around with plenty of time to go but a six game winning streak was quickly followed by them losing five of the next six games and starter Wyatt Lee was done with the Pirates. He bounced around the minors after that for 11 seasons winning over 130 more games but after losing 9-1 on May 26th, he never pitched in the majors again. A pitcher who was supposed to be one of their top starters for the season finished with a 1-2 8.24 record, making just three starts.
On June 6th, after a 15-2 loss to the first place Giants dropped the Pirates to 18-21, they were now nine games back in standings. They made what seemed like a minor transaction at time that same day, they purchased starting pitcher Patsy Flaherty from the Chicago White Sox for $750. The Sox had a deep pitching staff and Flaherty had made just five starts for them although he pitched good in those games. The reason the deal seemed so minor at the time was that Flaherty had led all of baseball in losses in 1903 with 25 while also giving up the most hits among AL pitchers. He had also pitched briefly for the Pirates in 1900 but they gave up on him after just 4 games and a 6.14 ERA.
The first game for Flaherty seemed like a wakeup call for the Pirates. He would win three starts over just eight days and the Pirates would win seven straight games in that stretch including a 19-1 victory over Boston on June 11th. Again it seemed like the Pirates were poised to make a run but they suffered a loss that would be tough to overcome. On June 16th Deacon Phillippe beat the Phillies 5-1 but he was injured in the game and although they didn’t know it at the time, he would miss the next two months. He had gone 5-2 in his last seven starts leaving the Pirates with a big hole to fill and three teams ahead of them in the standings.
The Pirates now desperate for pitching went to the college ranks, picking up Mike Lynch out of Brown University. He had last pitched in the minors in 1900 and was undefeated in college. Would a big name college player be able to step in and replace a superstar like Phillippe? Or were the Pirates just grasping at straws at this point and would more help be on the way? Next week we will see how the three time defending NL champs prepared for another run at the NL title without their 25 game winner from last year.
Just an addendum to this article because it really didn’t fit in anywhere but early in the 1904 season the Pirates acquired one of the best 19th century infielders ever. Now at first it would seem odd that I couldn’t work that into the story but when the Pirates bought Bobby Lowe from the Cubs they were about to go through that six day layoff in late April I mentioned above. Before they could play another game, the Pirates had sold Lowe to the Detroit Tigers. He had exactly one pinch hit appearance for the Pirates, striking out in his only plate appearance. The name might not be familiar but Lowe was a slick fielding 2B most of his career, he had good speed and in his prime he was a slugger. Perhaps you may have heard of him after all though if you’re big into baseball history, he was the first major leaguer to hit four home runs in one game doing it on May 30, 1894 off Elton “Ice Box” Chamberlain.