For a team that finished 23.5 games back in the standings in 1906, the Pittsburgh Pirates did very little to improve for the following season. It is likely they expected the Chicago Cubs to fall back somewhat from their amazing 116-36 season but looking at the off-season moves, or lack there of, you could say that the Pirates themselves should’ve expected to regress as well. Now the Pirates did make a large amount of late season moves in 1906, picking up nine players either through the rule V draft or by purchasing players from minor league teams including pitcher Nick Maddox, who would be a key member in later years and getting back pitcher Patsy Flaherty, who won 19 games for the Pirates in 1904. Once the season ended though, the off-season was very quiet, save for one big trade.
On December 11, 1906 the Pirates and the Boston Beaneaters pulled off a four player trade with Ginger Beaumont, Claude Ritchey and Patsy Flaherty going to Boston and second baseman Ed Abbaticchio returning to the Pirates. It looks like an odd trade on paper and for the most part it didn’t work out well for the Pirates. Beaumont was a star player for many years, three times with the Pirates he led the National League in hits, once in runs and once in batting average when he hit .357 in 1902. He was a career .321 hitter in his eight years with the Pirates, the only major league team he had played for up to that point. He scored 757 runs and stole 200 bases as the team’s everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter for eight years but the Pirates were willing to give up on him after a leg injury hampered his base running and the ability to play the strong defense he had provided all those years. He was 30 years old and had just hit a career low .265 with only one stolen base so they were betting on his best days being behind him when the made the move.
Claude Ritchey spent seven seasons at second base for the Pirates after coming over from Louisville in the Honus Wagner trade. He was 33 at the time but was still a solid everyday player both in the field and at the plate. In his seven seasons in Pittsburgh he batted .277 with 427 runs scored and 420 RBI’s. Claude had led NL second baseman in fielding percentage four of the last five seasons, finishing second in 1904 and he had played an average of 154 games the past three seasons.
The Pirates weren’t giving up much in Flaherty, a 31 year old pitcher who had spent the entire 1906 season in the minors. He did go 23-9 and pitch 305 innings in the American Association, which was a top minor league at the time but the Pirates pitching staff was loaded top to bottom so he would’ve been no more than a mop-up guy or an emergency starter in an era where bullpens were mostly ignored because starters were expected to finish what they started.
In return for those three players the Pirates got Ed Abbaticchio, a player who had sat out the entire 1906 season. Prior to that, in his three seasons with Boston, he was basically the same player at the plate as Claude Ritchey, putting up very similar numbers except Ed had more speed, stealing 77 bases over those three seasons. Abbaticchio played shortstop with Boston but there was obviously no room in Pittsburgh for him at that position with Wagner there and Ed wasn’t much of a fielder to begin with, although it is said he had excellent range, he led all of the NL in errors in both 1904 and 1905. The Pirates didn’t get much younger at second base either, trading the 33 year old Ritchey for the 30 year old Abbaticchio.
So that leaves you to wonder, just why exactly they made this deal? On paper they gave up on a star center fielder after one season of struggles, a steady 2B who led the league in fielding and a serviceable pitcher for a 30 year old shortstop who had just sat out an entire season. The Pirates acquired him to play second base but prior to sitting out a full season he was no better at hitting or fielding than the second baseman they had. The answer to the question was apparently, they did it for money. Not only were they getting rid of two bigger salaries(Ritchey/Beaumont) for one in return but the Pirates owner, Barney Dreyfuss, wanted to acquire Abbaticchio for a few years prior to take advantage of the large Italian population in Pittsburgh and Abbaticchio was easily the best Italian baseball player at the time and the only one in the majors. He is supposedly the first Italian-American in the majors but it isn’t 100% certain. A possible reason the Pirates gave up so much for one average player, on top of the increased attendance aspect, is they didn’t want the New York Giants to get him, as they were interested in buying Abbaticchio from Boston.
Whatever the reasons for the trade it left the Pirates with a hole in center field to fill and they made the outfield depth even worse just 20 days later. On New Year’s eve in 1906 the Pirates sold their starting right fielder Bob Ganley to the Washington Senators. He hit .258 in 137 games with 63 runs scored and 19 stolen bases. These two moves now meant that the Pirates would continue to use Tommy Leach in the outfield leaving right field and Leach’s old position of 3B in the hands of three rookies.
The Pirates took Alan Storke in the September rule V draft in 1906 and got the 21 year old rookie into five games at the end of the year. The 1906 season was his first in pro ball so the Pirates were taking quite a leap of faith with him assuming he could fill a full-time position in the majors with so little pro experience. In right field they were with a minor league veteran named Edward “Goat” Anderson, a 27 year old who played four seasons for his hometown team in South Bend, Indiana, a member of the Central League. In 1906 Anderson hit .315 in 150 games but he had no prior major league experience going into the 1907 season. The third player was William Hallman who was bought out of the minors in August of 1906. He had played a full season in the AL in 1901, spent 1902 in the minors, 1903 in the majors then back to the minors for three seasons hitting .343 in 1906 for Louisville. He was 31 years old and had hit .270 in 23 late season games for the 1906 Pirates.
On the pitching side the only big addition was actually just the emergence of a pitcher who had been around since September of 1903 but he had made just 12 appearances since then. Howie Camnitz had gone 26-7 in the low minors his first season in pro ball in 1903 so the Pirates took a chance with him and gave him time to develop into a more rounded pitcher. After three full seasons in the minors and a 53-39 record they decided he was ready for a full-time starting job in 1907 making him the fifth man in a rotation that included Sam Leever, Deacon Phillippe, Lefty Leifield and Vic Willis. Those four players combined for a 78-43 record in 1906. The only real question mark with that group was the ages of Leever and Phillippe who were both 35 at the time. Those five guys basically made up the Pirates pitching staff to start the year. They had a young pitcher named Babe Adams around to begin the year as well as Mike Lynch, who had won 32 games for the Pirates between 1904-05 but neither were expected to see much time.
It could be said that the Pirates were probably the same in pitching going into 1907 as they were for the 1906 season with the advanced age of two of their top starters canceling out the addition of Camnitz, who was basically taking the spot of Lynch in the rotation. In the field and at the plate they seemed to be worse, especially in the outfield. Manager/left fielder Fred Clarke was starting to show the signs of age at 34 and the combo of Goat Anderson and William Hallman had the tough task of replacing Beaumont. Third base also seemed weaker and Abbaticchio looked to be no better than Ritchey although he was built up to be a big addition. The shortstop position was never a problem with Wagner there but the catching spot saw the return of the light hitting combo of George Gibson and Ed Phelps. Joe Nealon, who led the league in RBI’s as a rookie returned to play first base. The bench saw the return of injured outfielder Otis Clymer and third string catcher Harry Smith and well as Tommy Sheehan, the main third baseman in 1906.
The Pirates brought very little improvements to the table over the off-season, so a 23.5 game difference between they and the Cubs seemed to be a very tough gap to close, especially with the Cubs returning almost their entire 1906 team. There was also the New York Giants to think about, they finished in second place in the NL, just ahead of the Pirates in 1906 and the two previous seasons they took home the NL crown.