Pirates Pitching Great, Babe Adams

In the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise, only one player has won more games than Charles “Babe” Adams. Born on May 18,1882, he played eighteen seasons in a Pirates uniform before he retired, leaving the game with 194 career wins.

Adams got his start in pro baseball in 1905, pitching in the Missouri Valley League, where he won 21 games and posted a 2.05 ERA in 276 innings. He had his contract purchased by the St Louis Cardinals and was with the team on Opening Day in 1906 after just one season in the minors. His first major league trial did not last long. Babe started the fourth game of the season and was hit hard by a Chicago Cubs team that went on to win 116 games that year. He was soon sent to Denver of the Western League, where he went 9-10 3.01 in 155.1 innings. Adams remained at Denver the next year and showed great improvement over the previous season. He went 24-13 with a 1.99 ERA and he pitched 325.1 innings. His season wasn’t over though, as the Pirates purchased him from Denver in September and gave him three late season starts. Babe did not pitch well, allowing 40 hits and 25 runs in 22 innings. At the age of twenty-five, he had an 0-3 major league record, which makes his overall career record, that much more impressive. 

Babe spent all of the 1908 season in the minors, playing for Louisville of the American Association. It was said at the time that he needed more seasoning in the minors and the extra year apparently paid off. He won 22 games and had a 2.08 ERA in 312 innings. He began the 1909 season with the Pirates, although he was far down on a pitching depth chart that included Vic Willis, Lefty Leifield, Nick Maddox, Howie Camnitz, Deacon Phillippe and Sam Leever. Adams would make twelve starts during that regular season, the sixth most of the team, but in the World Series, he became the ace of the staff against the Detroit Tigers. He would win game one, game three and game seven, giving the city of Pittsburgh it’s first World Series title.

His great post-season in 1909, overshadowed the fact that he posted a 12-3 record and a 1.11 ERA in 130 innings during that 1909 season. The 1910 season saw the departure of Vic Willis, which opened up more mound time for the rest of the staff. Adams stepped in and immediately became the staff ace, winning 18 games and posting a team low, 2.24 ERA in 245 innings. By 1911, both Maddox and Leever were gone, plus Phillippe saw very limited action, leaving Leifield, Adams and Camnitz to all pitch over 265 innings apiece. Babe was once again the best of the group, winning 22 games and leading the team with a 2.33 ERA in 293.1 innings. His ERA ranked him third in the National League.

In 1912, Adams struggled during the month of June and July, seeing very little time. He still finished with an 11-8 2.91 record, making twenty starts and eight relief appearances. He bounced back nicely the next season, posting his second twenty win season, to go along with a 2.15 ERA in a career high of 313.2 innings. In 1914, Adams made the Opening Day start for the Pirates and lost 2-1. Pittsburgh would then play sixteen games over the next three weeks and lose just one more time. The team then went into a terrible funk and by mid-July, they were six games under the .500 mark, a stretch of 19-38 ball. Adams finished the year with a 13-16 record but during one of those losses, he pulled off an amazing feat. On July 17th, he faced future Hall of Fame pitcher, Rube Marquard, then with the Giants. The score was tied at 1-1 by the third inning and that’s how it stood for 14 more innings until the Giants scored two runs in the 17th inning. Both Marquard and Adams went the whole way and Babe didn’t allow a single walk all game.

The 1915 Pirates were slightly better than the 1914 team that finished in seventh place, but they still had a losing record and a fifth place finish. Adams finished at .500 on the year, winning 14 games, while posting a 2.87 ERA in 245 innings. The following season seemed like the end of the road for Babe, as he went just 2-9 5.72 and was released by the Pirates in August. He went to the minors and had to work his way back, but it was owed more due to the ongoing war, than his success on the mound, that got him back to the majors. Adams won twenty games in the Western League in 1917, posting a 1.75 ERA in 308 innings. At the time, he was 36 years old, too old for military duty but with the absence of many young players, it opened up a spot for him in 1918 and the Pirates came calling.

Adams played for the Kansas City Blues of the American Association in 1918, going 14-3 with a 1.67 ERA before the season ended early due to the war. The Pirates needed pitching and were able to sign him as a free agent on July 24,1918. He pitched three games for Pittsburgh, allowing just three earned runs in 22.2 innings. It turned out to be a great pickup for the Pirates, as he was far from done as a pitcher.

In 1919, Babe went 17-10 with a 1.98 ERA and he walked just 23 batters in 263.1 innings. His outstanding control was even better the following season. He won 17 games for the second year in a row in 1920, and nearly matched his inning output from the previous season, falling one out short. Adams would walk only 18 batters all season. He also threw a league leading eight shutouts, which is the second highest single season total in franchise history. In 1921, now at 39 years old, Adams went 14-5, posting a league best .737 winning percentage. Although it wasn’t a recognized stat at the time, that season marked the third straight year that Adams posted the best WHIP in the NL.

Babe began to slowly show his age, beginning with an 8-11 3.57 season in 1922, then despite a 13-7 record the following year, his ERA rose to 4.42 over 158.2 innings. Adams had an arm injury that limited him to one appearance before late August of the 1924 season. He would end up pitching just 39.2 innings, with ten of those innings coming during a complete game win in his last start of the season.

Adams spent the 1925 season getting occasional starts and pitching in mop-up duty. He had a 6-5 record with a 5.42 ERA but still got in 101.1 innings. Sixteen years after winning their first World Series title, the Pirates were back in the Fall classic. They would win it in seven games, but unlike 1909, when he was a big part of the series victory, Adams got in just one inning, coming during a 4-0 loss in game four. He would return for the 1926 season, being used in an even more limited role, strictly out of the bullpen.

The Pirates clubhouse in 1926 was not friendly towards the veterans. Adams, along with Carson Bigbee and Max Carey were all let go in August after a rift with Fred Clarke, who was the bench coach at the time. The players all held a vote to get rid of Clarke, saying the team didn’t need two managers and it wasn’t working out for the good of the team. When word got out that all three of the veterans had voted against Clarke, they were all let go. Adams didn’t play the rest of the year and he would finish his career at age 45, pitching in the minors, where he went 6-1 in 1927.

In Pirates franchise history, Adams ranks tied for second with Sam Leever in wins with 194, trailing only Wilbur Cooper. Adams is third in innings pitched(2991.1) behind Cooper and Bob Friend. He ranks sixth in strikeouts, fourth in games started, sixth in complete games and first in shutouts with forty-four. Adams walked just 430 batters in his career, four times leading the league in lowest walks per inning.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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