The Pittsburgh Pirates had a fairly quiet 1906 off-season, making one major trade by giving up longtime second baseman Claude Ritchey, Ginger Beaumont who was their centerfielder and leadoff hitter since 1899 and pitcher Patsy Flaherty who spent the 1906 season in the minors. In return all they received was second baseman Ed Abbaticchio who seemed to be at best a slight upgrade over Ritchey. They still had to replace Beaumont, who had a down year in 1906 due to injury but prior to that was an all-star caliber player. The Pirates went with marginal major leaguers in William Hallman and Goat Anderson to play in the 1907 outfield alongside manager/ left fielder Fred Clarke and Tommy Leach, who moved from third base into the center field role.
The rest of the lineup was made up of catcher George Gibson, who was in his third year but it would be the first time he was the primary catcher. He was backed up by Ed Phelps who was a better hitter but not as good on defense and didn’t have the arm Gibson had while playing in an era where stolen bases were much more prevalent. Harry Smith was a 32 year old third string catcher in his sixth season with the Pirates. He had arm injuries that cost him almost all of the previous two seasons.
The infield along with Abbaticchio including the superstar shortstop Honus Wagner who led the National League in batting average, runs scored and doubles in 1906. First base was manned by Joe Nealon, the NL RBI leader in 1906 as a rookie. He also played every game at first base for the Pirates that season so they had high hopes for the 22 year old in his second season. At the hot corner they had 29 year old Tommy Sheehan who hit .241 with 34 RBI’s in 95 games in 1906, his first full season in the majors. Also at third base was Alan Storke, who could also play all three other infield positions. Storke played five late season games for the Pirates after he was taken in the September 1906 rule V draft.
The starting rotation to open up the season, along with their 1906 records, was Deacon Phillippe(15-10 2.47) getting the opening day nod, followed by the team leader in ERA and wins, Vic Willis(23-13 1.73). Lefty Leifield(18-13 1.87) who threw the team’s first no-hitter got the ball for game three and veteran Sam Leever(22-7 2.32) went in game four. The second time through the rotation, the 5th starter, Mike Lynch took the place of Leever, a temporary change as Lynch would make just four starts all season, three of them during a six game span. Howie Camnitz, who had been around since 1904 but made just 12 appearances, would play a big part of the 1907 rotation but he didn’t make a start until late June when they needed him for the second game of a doubleheader. The Pirates used ten different starters throughout the 1907 season but the group of Willis, Phillippe, Leever, Leifield and Camnitz all individually started more games than the other five pitchers used, combined.
The season started off slow, opening day was on April 11th and then because of weather and travel they didn’t get another game in until six days later. The Pirates started with a loss, then faced the 1906 NL champs, the Chicago Cubs and lost two out of three games. Pittsburgh would give their fans some false hope after that 1-3 start as they won eight games in a row but they did it against the Reds and Cardinals, two of the worst teams in the league. They would quickly come back down to Earth against the two best teams following that streak. In consecutive two game sets against the Cubs and Giants, the Pirates got swept, leaving them at 9-7 after the first month.
They next played a three game set against a Boston Doves team that would win just 58 games that 1907 season. The Pirates won the first two games but in the third, Patsy Flaherty out-dueled Sam Leever to defeat his former team by a 2-1 score. Pittsburgh then took three out of four in Brooklyn (all of the Pirates wins were shutouts) to move to 14-9, well behind the Cubs and Giants who both got out to quick starts. They were also just ahead of the Phillies, a team that was 11 games under .500 in 1906 and one that they were about to face for three games in Philadelphia.
That three game series against the Phillies looked one-sided on paper. The Pirates were using Willis, Leifield and Phillippe, guys that combined for 56 wins in 1906 and they were playing for what was considered the much better team. The Phillies countered with Frank Corridon, Lew Moren and veteran Toggie Pittinger, guys who combined for eight major league wins in 1906. Moren was a member of the 1903-04 Pirates teams and a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh but he didn’t pitch well for the Pirates in his brief trials so they cut him. The Phillies surprisingly won all three games of the series and dropped the Pirates to fourth place in the standings as they took over the third spot. For the time being there was now a new team to deal with at the top of the NL.
The Pirates had no trouble with the lesser teams as five games with the Reds and Cardinals helped bring them back towards the pack. They went 4-1 in those games but ran into the powerhouse Chicago Cubs after that with their pitching staff that was as good as any from that era. All the good that came from the previous five game series was canceled out by going just 1-4 against the Cubs, who they now trailed by ten games on June 3rd. The back and forth records continued with six games at home against Boston and Brooklyn, with the Pirates taking five of those games. In a brief two game series against the Giants the Pirates actually defeated Pirates killer Christy Mathewson, then for good measure took the series with a win over another future Hall of Famer, Joe McGinnity.
Pittsburgh had won seven of eight on their homestand but they made up no ground to the Cubs in the standings and in came those pesky Phillies again for a four game series. With the same three pitchers as before, Philadelphia took the first three games and only a strong pitching performance by Phillippe in game four kept the Pirates from being swept again. If the Pirates weren’t already too far behind the Cubs, four losses in three days against the Reds pretty much sealed their fate for this season. There were noticeably smaller crowds in Pittsburgh and one of the reasons was because they were already 14 games out before June even ended.
The Pirates would make a run and it started with beating the top team. A six game series against the Cubs in Chicago ended with the Pirates winning four games and settling for a tie in another. The pitching held the Cubs to just two runs in the first three games. They followed that series with a five game series against the Cardinals which they swept. In came the Phillies and the Pirates won the first two games. Seven wins in a row and all they could do was move up to second place, the Giants fell back quickly after a great start, but the Cubs still had an 11 game lead with their amazing 54-17 record on July 8th.
The Pirates finished July 55-33 with a 12-7 record since July 8th. They won a doubleheader over Boston on the last day of the month, with both games by Boston being started by Irv Young, which turned out to be a bad idea as the Pirates won game two by a score of 15-1. The beginning of August would see the official dagger in the Pirates season, losing four of five to the Giants which dropped Pittsburgh 14.5 games back. A week later they would lose three straight to the Boston Doves before what had to be one of the best highlights of the season. On August 22nd, at that point just playing for pride, they defeated the great Christy Mathewson 20-5 in New York.
The Pirates would take four of the seven meetings against the Cubs in the last two months but during that span they never got closer than 14.5 games back in the standings. The Cubs had won their second straight title with a 107-45 record, leaving the 91 win Pirates team 17 games back in second place. The surprising Phillies would win 83 games and go 14-8 against the Pirates, they only team besides the Cubs to outplay Pittsburgh head-to-head.
The new second baseman Ed Abbaticchio would hit .262 and tie Honus Wagner for the team lead in RBI’s with 82. He would also steal 35 bases which was only the fourth highest total on a team that liked to run. Wagner won his fifth batting title with a .350 mark and also led the league with 61 steals and 38 doubles, the fifth time he lead the league in that category as well. Joe Nealon had a disappointing sophomore season and it turned out to be his last year in the majors at age 22. Tommy Leach hit .303, the first time he batted over .300 since the 1901 season but next to him, Fred Clarke hit .289 which was his lowest batting average since 1900. The replacements for Ginger Beaumont, Goat Anderson and Bill Hallman, hit .206 and .222 respectively while Beaumont would lead the NL in hits.
George Gibson hit .220 which was 42 points higher than he hit in each of his first two seasons and he led NL catchers in putouts while also throwing out 50% of would-be basestealers. Third basemen Tommy Sheehan and Alan Storke each had respectable batting averages but combined in 583 AB’s they had just 17 extra base hits. In September a 20 year old rookie infielder made his major league debut by the name of Bill McKechnie. He would have an 11 year career in the majors, six with the Pirates before switching to the manager spot where he would win 1896 games and two World Series titles, one with the 1940 Reds and the other at the helm of the 1925 Pirates
Vic Willis would win a team leading 21 games in 1907 while Lefty Leifield would win 20 games for the first time in his career. Sam Leever pitched great, posting a career low 1.66 ERA but due to some shaky support, he went just 14-9. Deacon Phillippe went 14-11 with a 2.61 ERA, the highest among the five starters and Howie Camnitz went 13-8 2.15 in his first full season in the majors, a good sign of things to come with him. There was also two other names among starters that the Pirates and their fans saw for the first time in late 1907, Nick Maddox and Babe Adams, who will be the subjects of next week’s history article.
Finally, just because you may never read his name again, on September 16th during the second game of a doubleheader against the Cardinals, the Pirates let a 25 year old righty finish out the 5-1 loss. His name was Connie Walsh and he pitched just that one inning in the majors, allowing one hit, one walk and one run. He pitched nine minor league seasons without another chance in the majors.