Two of the most important deals preparing the way for the Reds first World Championship came in the winter of 1919 with the following two deals:

February 1, 1919….Traded outfielder Tommy Griffith to Brooklyn Robins for 1B Jake Daubert then…
February 19, 1919…. Traded 1b Hal Chase to Giants for C Bill Rariden and 1B Walter Holke.

Part four to building the 1919 World Championship team, this is the ultimate definition of addition through subtraction….and the importance of character, leadership, and yes, even chemistry in the clubhouse. The Daubert deal was important asset needed for the team, but the Chase deal was not as much about Griffith, Rariden, or Holke. Not even about utility guy Jimmy Smith, who was acquired for Holke a few days later.

The Chase deal was about getting rid of “Prince Hal” Chase….considered by some to have been the most evil professional baseball player ever.

Hal Chase was a wonderful baseball talent. Total Baseball quotes The Sporting News in 1913: “That he can play first as it never was and perhaps never will be played is a well known truth. That he will is a different matter.” Playing for the Yankees in 1907, The Sporting Life called Chase “perhaps the biggest drawing card in baseball.”

Chase was banned from many professional baseball leagues for his crooked play. He was known to dive for many ground balls, and just come up short or he would dive just a little too late. He would make great plays and then make throw that were just a little too hard enough to catch that pitchers or other infielders covering the bags would get charged with errors. Crowds cheered him over and over…but, the players knew.

Due to charges of his fixing games, the American League had already decided he would no longer be eligible to play in their league. He jumped to the Federal League, and after that league folded, he signed with the Reds to play in the NL. He won the National League batting title in 1916 for the Reds, having his best season and hitting .339, finishing second in the league in RBI. He led the NL in at bats and finished 2nd in rbi in 1917, and batted .301 in 1918. How good was Chase? In 1924, after Chase was out of baseball, Walter Johnson, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the Washington Senators, selected Chase as the best first baseman he had ever seen.

However, in 1918, he tried to bribe Reds pitcher Jimmy Ring to throw a game, and paid Ring $25 after the game was actually lost. Ring reported him to manager Christy Mathewson and Mathewson suspended Chase for “indifferent play.” Chase’s defense was that the $25 “was a gift.” It wasn’t the only example; other players spoke up and Chase said it was a team clique out to get him. Chase appealed the suspension to the NL for lost pay and won because Mathewson couldn’t testify because he was in France serving the United States during World War I. Chase played with the Reds for three seasons before the Reds dealt him to the Giants for a back up catcher and a journeyman first baseman. Then the Giants hired Christy Mathewson as a coach.

By August of 1919, the Giants sent him to California and told him he wasn’t welcome in the NL any more either. He was suspended from three different California leagues for attempting to bribe players.

In a related story, the Cubs released former Red infielder Lee Magee before the 1920 season. Magee sued for wages, but court testimony proved that Magee and Chase had thrown a number of games in 1918 to collect on bets against their own team, the Reds. Chase is also rumored to have played a role in the 1919 World Series Black Sox scandal, but it was never proven. He obviously would have been in a position to have had inside information and contacts on the Reds’ team.

Jake Daubert was a somewhat similar player to Chase except that he filled the role of leader with integrity. He had so much loyalty and gave so much to his team, it killed him. Daubert died from appendectomy complications following the 1924 season. He had been ill at the end of the season and refused to miss games and died shortly thereafter. James has Daubert listed as the 61st best first baseman ever. Daubert had won the NL MVP award in 1914 with Brooklyn, and his best career season came as a Red in 1922 at the age of 38 when he batted .336 with 12 homers, 66 rbi, and leading the league with 22 triples. Tommy Griffith was a very good outfielder for the Reds.

However, this is a case of addition by subtraction and definitely supports the idea of character and chemistry in the clubhouse. If Chase had remained a Red, chances are there would not have been a 1919 World Championship for the Reds. One other thing….the year the Reds acquired Chase, their record declined by 10 games. The year after the dealt him away, they improved by 22 games. Bill James ranks him as the 76th best first baseman of all time despite his evils.

3 Responses

  1. Glenn

    Was there such a thing as a GM back then or was Herrmann the one who was making these trades? Whoever it was, had to be one of the best. Seems like every trade made during this time period turned to gold.

  2. Steve Price

    Herrmann did the deals himself, usually after suggestions from his onfield managers.

    If the managers weren’t happy, they took their complaints to the press. I just read one where manager Joe Tinker wanted some deals and Herrmann vetoed them. Tinker complained to the press that Herrmann was more interested in saving money for his off-season extravangant parties than building a winning baseball team.

    Tinker was traded.

    It took Herrmann a while to understand how to win (and that came with raiding the Giants’ farm system). He was used as a patsy through the first decade of the 1900’s. I suspect Chad will post my bad trades article discussing those awful deals next…it will take us back about 15 years when Herrmann first started.