At the end of the 1907 season the Pittsburgh Pirates brought in two new pitchers to help finish out the season. One of them was 25 years old who had pitched, albeit very poorly, in the majors already. The other was just 20 years old and had only 25 games of minor league experience to his credit. Both would go on to play big parts in the Pirates 1909 run to their first World Series title but after that their careers took very different paths.
Charles “Babe” Adams began his professional baseball career in 1905 playing for the Parsons Preachers of the Missouri Valley League. He went 21-9 2.03 in 32 games and 276 innings that first year, earning a look from the St Louis Cardinals, who purchased his contract from Parsons. He would make his major league debut on April 18, 1906 and it was a very shaky one. Going up against the Chicago Cubs, a team that had gone 116-36 the previous season, Adams lasted just four innings during his team’s 11-1 loss, allowing eight runs on nine hits and two walks with no strikeouts. It was just the fourth game of the season for the Cardinals but his major league season was over. He was originally sent to the Louisville Colonels of the American Association but they shipped him to Denver of the Western League, a high level minor league of the time. He would go 9-10 3.01 in 21 games for Denver in 1906 and then return there as well the following season when no major league teams came calling.
In 1907 Adams had a terrific season, going 24-13 1.99 in 36 starts and three relief appearances, pitching a total of 325.2 innings. In September the Pirates came along and purchased his contract for $5,000, bringing him right to the majors to help with September innings as the team fell back in the standings to a Cubs team that would win 107 games. The Pirates decided to get looks at the young pitchers they had once they were eliminated from contention and Adams was one of the beneficiaries of this team experiment.
Nick Maddox began his minor league baseball career in 1907 as a member of the Wheeling Stogies of the Central League. He would go 13-10 in 25 games for a team that would produce just one other major league from it’s 1907 roster, outfielder Harl Maggert, who just like Maddox, was also already Pirates property. Both Maggert and Maddox were taken by the Pirates in the 1906 rule 5 draft and both were sent to nearby Wheeling to play together. Harl also made his major league debut in September 1907 with the Pirates. Maddox didn’t have an impressive winning percentage that season but he pitched two no-hitters for Wheeling, a sign that he was better than his record actually indicated.
Maddox was the first of these two new Pirates pitchers to get a start, going up against the last place St Louis Cardinals on September 13th at Pittsburgh. He would begin his major league career in a strong way in front of the home crowd, throwing a complete game shutout, winning by a 4-0 score. On the 16th of September the Pirates would travel to St Louis to play the Cardinals in a doubleheader and manager Fred Clarke would call on Maddox to start game one and Adams to start game two, his first start of the season. Maddox wasn’t able to dominate quite like he did just three days earlier against the Cardinals but he was still able to pick up his second win by a 4-2 score. It was the Pirates 80th win of the season against just 53 losses. Adams was pitching against the team that released him one season earlier and he wasn’t quite up to the task as the Cardinals took game two, winning 5-1.
The Pirates came back to Pittsburgh for a three season against Brooklyn on September 19th. Maddox got the start in the second game of the series, he was making his third start over an eight day time span. Facing a Superbas(one of seven monikers the Dodgers have gone by in their history) lineup that was crawling towards the finish line and would hit just .232 on the season, Maddox was able to keep them hitless in the Pirates 2-1 win. It was the first nine inning no-hitter in team history, Lefty Leifield had pitched a six inning no-hitter in a game called due to darkness just one year earlier. The Pirates themselves had just two hits during Maddox’s gem and the Brooklyn run scored due to back-to-back throwing errors from Honus Wagner and Maddox himself. The Pirates would go 44 more years before they had another complete game no-hitter when Cliff Chambers threw one in 1951.
Maddox made his fourth start on September 25th against a New York Giants team that had just shutout the down Pirates 2-0 behind the strong pitching of future Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson. On the mound that day opposing Maddox was Mike Lynch, who began the season with the Pirates. Maddox was on his game, pitching for the first time against a team with a winning record, he allowed just one run and for Lynch his major league career would end on a sour note, the losing pitcher on the wrong end of a 14-1 game.
The following day, with the Boston Doves now in town, Adams would make his second Pirates start. Pittsburgh would end up winning the game 5-4 but Adams wasn’t around at the end to pick up his first major league victory. The Pirates also during this time tried out a third young pitcher named Bill Otey who was a 20 year old lefty who had won 41 games between the 1906-07 seasons in the minors. His first start ended in a tie and he would pitch just two more times for the Pirates, eventually making it back to the majors for two seasons with the Washington Senators in 1910-11.
Maddox started 4-0 but he ran into a Phillies team on the last day of September that outplayed the Pirates head-to-head all season. He allowed just three runs, pitching a complete game but still ended up losing by a 3-2 score. The Phillies would go on to sweep that four game series in Pittsburgh, also beating Leifield, Deacon Phillippe and Howie Camnitz, three pitchers that combined for 47 wins in 1907.
The 1907 season ended with three straight doubleheaders against the Cincinnati Reds, six games in a three day span. Maddox threw the first, winning 2-1 in his sixth straight complete game. The Pirates lost game two and then on day two had the same outcomes, winning game one and losing the second half of the twinbill with Otey on the mound. Maybe when they won game one on the third day Babe Adams should’ve had a bad feeling about pitching game two. If he didn’t before the game started, he definitely had a bad feeling after the game ended. Adams lost 13-1, ending the 1907 season for the Pirates.
With the season now over, the Pirates got two contrasting impressions from these two pitchers. Maddox went 5-1 with an 0.83 ERA in six complete games. Adams went 0-2 6.95 allowing 40 hits in just 22 innings. About the only good sign from his September look was the fact he walked only three batters, otherwise it showed no sign of improvements over his brief stay with the Cardinals in 1906.
I’m sure if you asked just about anyone associated with baseball back then which one these two would have the best career, the answer would be Maddox. He was 20 years old with an impressive major league debut and three no-hitters to his credit in his first season of pro ball while Adams was five years older with two failed trials in the majors already. The scales would weigh even heavier in the favor of Maddox after the 1908 season but anyone who has ever picked up a Pirates media guide and flipped to the pitching records would know otherwise as no one in Pirates history has thrown more shutouts while wearing a Pittsburgh uniform and no one has posted a lower single season ERA than Adams.
Just how their careers each took such significant turns will be covered in the upcoming weeks but as of the end of the 1907 season Maddox was considered a solid piece of the future while Adams would be no more than an afterthought going into the 1907-08 offseason.