The 1905 Pittsburgh Pirates were a strong team and almost any other year they would be winning the National League pennant or at least be giving the first place team a run for their money but the New York Giants that year were a powerhouse team, winning 105 games and their second straight NL title. Unlike 1904 though, when they refused to play in the World Series, the 1905 team played and beat the American League champs, the Philadelphia Athletics in the series in five games.
The Pirates won 96 games, good for a second place finish and the only team they had a losing record against were the Giants, who they went 10-12 against. Two things “hurt” the Pirates record late in the season, a three game sweep by the Giants in Pittsburgh with just 12 games to go and the team packed it in once they were eliminated, losing the last five games while scoring just five runs in those games.
The team was led in pitching by Phillippe and Sam Leever, who each won 20 games. Leever lost just five games all season. On offense Honus Wagner led the team in almost every major category, falling behind Fred Clarke by just one in triples and walks. Wagner batted .363 with 101 RBI’s, 114 runs scored, 57 steals and 199 hits. Wagner for the first time since joing the Pirates, did not lead the NL in any major categories due to an amazing season by Reds outfielder Cy Seymour. Seymour was a former pitcher who once won 25 games in a season. He led the NL in hits, doubles,triples, RBI’s,total bases,both slugging and on base percentage and batting average. Seymour lost the triple crown by one homer to his teammate Fred Odwell, a guy who hit just one other homer over his other three seasons in the majors covering 281 games.
Fred Clarke batted .299 in 1905, just the third time he failed to reach .300 in his twelve year career. Ginger Beaumont played just 103 games due to knee problems but he still hit .328 and was able to steal 21 bases. New rookies for 1905 Del Howard and Otis Clymer hit .292 and .296 respectively. Veteran catcher Heinie Peitz, brought in for the 1905 season hit just .223 and by the end of the year he was platooning with rookie catcher George Gibson, a strong armed receiver who batted just .178 but showed amazing skills behind the plate for his young age. Tommy Leach had his second straight down year with the bat, hitting just .257 like he did in 1904 but he played six positions on defense after never leaving third base the previous three seasons. He replaced Beaumont in CF when he was injured and also got some time at both corner outfield spots and both middle infield spots as well as his normal spot at 3B.
As for the new players, the 1905 season saw one big addition late in the year that would help the team for many years to come and before the calendar year would end, they would make another key addition for the future. These moves would help the Pirates compete with the strong Giants team while also trying to keep them from falling behind the up and coming Chicago Cubs, who finished with 92 wins in 1905. Before getting into the new players it is also important to note the Pirates still had pitcher Howie Camnitz, who spent the entire 1905 season in the minors. He went 17-17 3.27 for Toledo of the American Association, pitching 300 innings that year. He would still be a year from contributing in the majors but he would be a key player in the Pirates future along with the following two new players.
In September of 1905 the Pirates brought up a young lefty pitcher by the name of Albert Leifield. He dominated the minors that year going 26-9 2.11 in just his second season of pro ball. Despite being just 21 years old and having thrown over 300 innings already in the minors, the Pirates threw him right in the starting rotation to finish the year. His first game was no easy task either. The Pirates and Cubs had a doubleheader on September 3rd with another twinbill scheduled for the following day. In game one with Deacon Phillippe on the mound the Cubs won 1-0 and Leifield got the ball in game two. Facing off against Jake Weimer, who won 20 games each of his first two seasons(he would win 18 in 1905), Leifield pitched a masterpiece, throwing a shutout with his team scoring just one run for the win.
That win for the Pirates would start a five game winning streak that got them within five games of the Giants with a month left in the season. Four days later Leifield made his second start and although he didn’t pitch well, he still got the win 11-7 over the Reds. The Pirates would win each of his first four starts and five of seven games overall. He went 5-2 2.89 with six complete games and threw 56 innings, giving him 359 total innings on the year. He would also earn a spot in the starting rotation for 1906 alongside a big time December acquisition named Vic Willis.
On December 15th the Pirates would trade first baseman Del Howard, infielder Dave Brain and pitcher Vive Lindaman to the Boston Braves(nicknamed the Beaneaters back then) in exchange for star pitcher Vic Willis. Boston had some bad teams back then, very bad actually, and Willis got caught up in their poor play. He was a workhorse pitcher, throwing over 2500 innings in his eight seasons in Boston and despite a 2.82 ERA and twice leading the league in shutouts, his overall record was just four games over .500. He had led the NL in losses in both 1904-05 so that along with the fact he wanted out of Boston due to a salary cut, helped keep the price down for the Pirates
In what looked like minor moves at the time, the Pirates signed minor league first baseman Joe Nealon and drafted thirdbaseman Tommy Sheehan in November, giving them adequate replacements for both Howard and Brain so they could be included in the Willis trade. Those signings kept the offense the same while greatly helping the pitching staff, a staff that was already strong for 1906 with Phillippe, Sam Leever, Mike Lynch and Charlie Case returning. Four pitchers who combined for a 68-37 record in 1905 now had Leifield and Willis by their side for a whole season.