Before I get into the 1907 Pittsburgh Pirates I wanted to cover the career of longtime Pirates second baseman Claude Ritchey, who was included in a trade with the Boston Doves in December of 1906, along with Ginger Beaumont(his career was covered here in an earlier article) and Patsy Flaherty. The Pirates received second baseman Ed Abbaticchio back in the trade and he replaced Ritchey at the position. Claude had spent the last seven seasons at the position for Pittsburgh, playing an average of 140 games per season, many of them as the double play partner of Honus Wagner.
Claude was born and raised in Emlenton,Pa., a town to the north of Pittsburgh so he could be considered a local kid. He played his first games as a pro for a team from Franklin, Pa in 1894 then in 1895 he played for a team from Warren, Pa in the Iron and Oil League, a Class C league at the time. His teammates on that team included Harry Smith, a longtime backup catcher for the Pirates in the early 1900′s, a pitcher named Elton “Icebox” Chamberlain who threw with both hands during a major league game, Jake Hewitt, who pitched for the 1895 Pirates and two brothers who both made the majors, Albert “Butts” Wagner who lasted one season and his brother Honus, who is one of the greatest players ever. Also that season, Ritchey and the Wagner brothers played on to a team from Ohio that was a member of the Interstate League. The team started the season in Steubenville, moved to Lima then finished the season in Akron.
In 1896 Ritchey moved up to a high level in the minors playing for the Buffalo Bisons of the Eastern League. The team was loaded with future and former major leaguers, 14 in total and among them was Harry Smith again. Following that season, Ritchey played so well that he was taken in the major league rule 5 draft by the Brooklyn Bridegrooms(current day LA Dodgers). Before he could play a game for Brooklyn he was sold to the Cincinnati Reds for a reported amount of $500 which seems low but according to a couple sources the deal was made because Brooklyn had made a trade earlier with the Reds, giving up star shortstop Tommy Corcoran, who refused to report.
For the Reds that rookie season Ritchey got the majority of the time at shortstop despite the fact Corcoran didn’t sit out long. Claude hit .282 in 101 games with 42 walks and 41 runs batted in. The average sounds decent but of the 11 guys on the team who also got 200 plate appearances, ten of them batted higher than Ritchey. His double play partner that season was a 37 year old named Bid McPhee, who some consider the greatest fielder at any position ever, so it was a good mentor for Ritchey his first year in the majors.. That combo would be split up quickly though as prior to the 1898 season Ritchey was traded to the Louisville Colonels, a trade that would soon pay dividends for the Pirates.
Ritchey split his 1898 season between shortstop and second base, playing over 70 games at each spot. He showed the first sign of the durability that would follow him throughout his career as he played 151 games. His hitting wasn’t anything impressive, he hit .254 with 19 extra base hits and 46 walks but he did lead the league in sacrifice hits at a time both bunting and hit and run plays were much more prevalent. He was also much improved on defense over his rookie season. He was an average fielder at shortstop but he played above average second base, to the point he only played 17 more games at positions other than 2B during the rest of his career.
He would have perhaps his finest season at the plate in 1899 for the Colonels, although he had many seasons for the Pirates that were almost as good. He hit a career high .300 with 73 RBI’s and 66 runs scored in 148 games. He posted a .748 OPS which was also a career high and he stole 21 bases, the only time in his career he topped 20 steals. His fielding took a bit of a hit as he committed a career high 51 errors but better days were ahead in that category.
Following the season Ritchey was part of a major deal between the Pirates and Colonels, a 16 player trade that is covered in depth here. What the trade basically did was make the Pirates a powerhouse team by moving all of the best players from Louisville to Pittsburgh for almost nothing. The Pirates got Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke, Tommy Leach, Deacon Phillippe and Ritchey(plus seven others), all five key parts of their title runs from 1901-03 in exchange for what turned out to be just three backups who may not have made the 1900 Pirates team even if the trade wasn’t made.
Claude played well that first season as the Pirates went 79-60 on the year. He played superb defense, finishing second among 2B in fielding percentage and assists while hitting .292 with 67 RBI’s, 18 stolen bases and an amazing total of just eight strikeouts in 528 plate appearances. In 1901 the Pirates won their first NL title and Ritchey had another strong season, hitting .296 with a career high 74 RBI’s in 140 games. He led the NL in errors at 2B for the only time in his career with 46 but he also led all second baseman in games played with 139 and assists while finishing second in putouts so the number isn’t quite as bad as it seems, especially when compared to today’s standards. There were no playoffs back then and the American League was just in it’s first season and not considered by many as an equal to the NL so the Pirates were considered by those AL naysayers to be the champions of baseball. The World Series would not be played for the first time until after the 1903 season.
The 1902 Pirates are considered by some to be the best team in Pittsburgh Pirates history. They went 103-36, winning the NL crown by 27.5 games over second place Brooklyn. Ritchey played just 115 games that season, his lowest total with the Pirates. He hit .277 with 55 RBI’s, 54 runs scored and a 53 to 15 BB/K ratio. He also posted a .966 fielding percentage to lead the NL just one season after leading the league in errors.
In 1903, the Pirates won their third straight NL pennant and moved on to the first modern World Series to face the Boston Americans. Ritchey had his typical steady season at the plate hitting .287 with 59 RBI’s, 55 walks and 66 runs scored while batting in the bottom half of the Pirates lineup. He did set a career high in slugging percentage with a .381 mark despite not hitting a home run all season, thanks to a high batting average and a career high 38 extra base hits(28 doubles, 10 triples). In the field he led the league in games played at 2B while leading the position in both assists and fielding percentage for a second time. He did however struggle badly in the World Series against the strong pitching of Cy Young and Bill Dinneen for Boston. Ritchey hit .148 with seven strikeouts in the eight games as the Pirates lost the series.
Despite going 87-66, the 1904 Pirates broke the string of three straight NL pennants for the franchise. Ritchey played well that year and played often, leading the NL in games played with 156(Pirates had three ties, that’s why the team record doesn’t match his games played). He set career highs with 79 runs scored and 12 triples while his 59 walks ranked as the fourth highest total in the NL. He was second in the NL in assists and fielding percentage and fourth in putouts. The 1905 season would be his worst statistical season at the plate for the Pirates, hitting just .255 with a .656 OPS. He went homerless for a third straight season but he was able to collect a career high 29 doubles and he still played strong defense, getting into 153 games while leading 2B in fielding for a third time and finishing second in assists again.
During his final season in Pittsburgh, Ritchey again was in the lineup everyday playing over 150 games for the third straight season. He hit .269 but drove in 62 runs, his highest total since 1901 and he also walked a career high 68 times. His glove was still strong, posting a .966 fielding percentage, tying his high while with the Pirates and for the fourth time he led the NL in that category. He had however lost a step in his game at age 32 and it was evident by his declining range in the field and his career low six stolen bases. Following the season the Pirates pulled off the three for one trade with Boston, ending Ritchey’s time in Pittsburgh. In seven seasons in the Steel City he played 977 games, hitting .277 with 420 RBI’s, 420 runs scored and a 362 to 172 BB/K ratio. Claude had been ranked the best second baseman in team history well into the 1960′s when finally passed by Bill Mazeroski for that honor.
Ritchey went on to play three seasons in Boston. He set a career high with a .971 fielding percentage in 1907, leading the league for a fifth and final time in that category. He hit .273 in 1908, his highest average since the 1903 season but by 1909 he was done as a major leaguer. His hit just .172 through 30 games before Boston released him. He finished the season in the minors for Providence of the Eastern League. He would later play for the Louisville Colonels again, this time the minor league version in 1911 although he broke his arm in a collision very early in the season and missed the rest of the year. His last year in pro ball was for a minor league team out of Pittsburgh in 1912 called the Filipinos. Over 13 major league seasons he had 1619 career hits in 1672 games, finishing with 709 runs scored and 155 stolen bases.