One of my baseball habits involves deadball era imagery I make paper products out of old baseball cards and sell them on the net, for fun I like to peruse the Library of Congress for old photos, especially Reds photos.

This one particularly interested me. It’s a pretty basic picture from the deadball era; the field looks “hard” and not very picturesque like the manicured ones on TV these days. The stands are raw and uncovered, barely teeming with the denizens that fill Wrigley these days. I’m fairly certain sure that the roving WGN cameramen would have a hard time finding a woman in a tank top in that crowd.

This picture is struck me with numerous Cincinnati connections, there are more than few in this picture, probably more than I can site. Two main facts strike me about it, Each man in the picture worked for the Cincinnati Reds at one time and each man managed in the Major Leagues later in their lives.

Date – 1908

Batter Miller Huggins (Attempting a Bunt) Catcher Johnny Kling, Umpire Hank O’Day.

Site: Chicago West End Grounds.

To start Miller Huggins was a Walnut Hills boy who despite his small stature made himself a nice little career in the National League and he was a skilled leadoff hitter and finished his career with a robust .382 OB% vs. the league .327. Miller drew 103 walks in 1905 as a Red; this was the club record until the 1972 season when Joe Morgan joined the Big Red Machine. Currently Huggins and Johnny Bates share the 10th slot for most walks in a season as a Red, but that is bound to change as Dunn logs more ab’s as a Red.

WALKS                         YEAR     BB     
1    Joe Morgan               1975      132   
2    Adam Dunn                2002      128   
3    Joe Morgan               1974      120   
4    Joe Morgan               1977      117   
5    Joe Morgan               1972      115   
6    Joe Morgan               1976      114   
7    Joe Morgan               1973      111   
8    Adam Dunn                2004      108   
9    Pete Rose                1974      106   
T10  Johnny Bates             1911      103   
T10  Miller Huggins           1905      103 

Huggins is the last man in the photo to become a manager and is certainly the most famous. He was traded to St. Louis after the 1909 season and became the Cardinals manager in 1913 and from there his career was eventually redefined in the ubiquitous Babe Ruth lore and his actual playing career and early NL managing experience was dimmed in the mighty shadow of his relationship with Ruth.

Known as a fine bunter and often credited with inventing the delayed steal Huggins was what folks call “Scrappy” and as a player was most like Willie Randolph without the fielding skills. The picture shows the ball coming in over his head and Johnny Kling is standing to catch the ball. Kling is probably a step behind the normal placement of today’s catchers; this is most likely an attempt to protect him more than a strategic move. It wasn’t uncommon for catchers to set up further behind the plate when the bases were clear. Of course the bunt might suggest in another era that a player was on base, but in the deadball era it is not a good idea to assume that scratch hits and strategic plays always involve runners.

Another odd Cincinnati connection can be found in Millers decision to play professional baseball. Huggins was convinced by a Law professor at the University of Cincinnati to pursue his dream of playing in the big leagues, the professor was a large man and came from a popular local family. His name was William Howard Taft, whose half brother would later fund a former Cincinnati Enquirer sports editor (Charles Murphy) when he bought the Cubs in 1905. Taft’s older brother ended up purchasing the team from Murphy (for 5 times as much as Murphy paid for it with Taft’s loan) and owned the Cubs himself from 1914-1915 and is the last Cubs owner to own the ballpark in the photo above.

One detail that leaps out to me is Kling’s lack of shin guards. Roger Bresnathan introduced shin guards in 1907 and only he and George Gibson of the Pirates wore them in 1908 (a season in which both were #1 and #2 in the league in games caught, thus changing the game by increasing the sturdiness of the catcher) Kling was generally regarded as the finest defensive catcher of that era. In his prime he decided to stay west (Kansas City) and pursue the worlds Billiard Championship, which he won. He supplemented his income playing some semi-pro ball but in 1910 he decided he wanted back in the big leagues. Problem is he had some trouble getting his game back. As many do even to this day when forced to miss a year.

Later in life he was fast to admit in interviews that his skills had diminished due to his absence. Noting that timing was essential to returning to form and that long layoffs can really hurt your game. Like any older player the Cubs later moved Kling as his game declined and Jimmy Archer pressed him for playing time. He ended up in Boston (National League Purgatory at that time) and was eventually inserted as the manager for the newly named Braves in 1912.

52 wins later Kling was looking for another job, however in retrospect it’s not as though he did anything worse than his predecessors.

1908  6th     63   91  .409   36   
1909  8th     45  108  .294   65.5 
1910  8th     53  100  .346   50.5 
1911  8th     44  107  .291   54   
1912  8th     52  101  .340   52

Those are some bad teams the Nationals/Rustlers/Braves were trotting out there, absolutely horrid. No wonder they had an identity crisis in naming that mess.

Kling was once again a man without a job, and proceeded to look up former teammates in hope of catching on with a team for another year. This is where the Cincinnati connection arises. In Cincinnati former Cubs SS Joe Tinker was obtained from the Cubs and trying his hand at running Gary Herrmann’s team. He could use a backup catcher and a old friend from happier times so he inked Kling to back up Tommy Clarke, Kling played out his string with the Reds that summer and walked away from the game with a league average OPS and a reputation as a fine fielding catcher who’s soft talking ways charmed many an umpire to see the game as he did.

The umpire in the picture might be the most interesting man in the photo. Henry “Hank” O’Day was one of those rare men who played, umpired and managed in MLB.

Started his career in the 1880’s in the American Association; his catcher was the Fleetwood Walker the first black man to play professional baseball. Not a good pitcher in an era that boasts gaudy pitching numbers O’Day managed to throw 1600 innings and play in 3 different professional leagues before he hung it up with a sub .500 after the 1890 season.

O’Day joined the umpiring business in 1895 and is in that position that he gained most of his baseball fame. O’Day is most famous for being the umpire during the famous “Merkel Incident” and the second base umpire for the first triple play in World Series History.

The Cincinnati connection with O’Day is found in 1912, a year that O’Day found himself a manager in the National League and it was the Reds who gave the arbitrator his first chance at managing O’Day’s greatest accomplishment as a Red is that he was at the helm of the club when they opened the new stadium that was christened “Redland Field” and later renamed Crosley Field.

It was also the Reds who also gave him his first pink slip after the season ended. Back to umpiring went O’Day only to reemerge in 1914 working for the aforementioned Taft family in Chicago managing the Cubs to their first sub .500 record in 12 seasons. In 1915 he was once again wearing blue and defending his calls to the players he managed the year before.

2 Responses

  1. Chad

    Great post, Brian. Once again, you’ve outdone yourself.