Every baseball season is like a Christmas present. Languishing in the corner, waiting to be opened, every fan loves to pick up that present and shake it softly, wondering what it contains and if it is indeed that one gift they have been waiting for. This series looks at prior seasons in the Reds history in ten-year increments, examining the good, the bad, and all the other things that might make a season interesting, because no matter how good or bad your team is there will be a story to tell once the season is in the rearview mirror.
1923 – Vladimir K. Zworykin files his first patent (in the United States) for “Television Systems”.
Finishing in second place, the 1923 Reds spent the whole season looking up at the New York Giants. With five games left in the campaign, they defeated the Giants to get within three games of first place but couldn’t get closer. The Reds were the only National League team to win the season series against the Giants, going 12-10. Having the best pitching in the league was the strength the Reds leaned on all year. Dolph Luque led the team with 10.4 WAR and the Reds team led the league in ERA. Pitching would be their bread and butter for most of the decade. Hitting, on the other hand, would be their Achilles heel.
Who was Arriving?
On May 6th, infielder Joseph Chester Fowler made his MLB debut when he pinch-ran for catcher Ivey Wingo. Fowler didn’t go by his given name, instead the Texan went by the nickname, Boob. In 1923, given names were mostly traditional—George, Pete, Bill, Eddie and Sam, but nicknames were more common than today. The 1923 Reds were flush with nicknames that had character. Bubbles, Cactus, Babe and Rube are examples of the type of nicknames that were slapped onto a guy when he pulled on his heavy wool uniform in the clubhouse. In today’s game we have at least eight Austin’s and maybe more Tyler’s but not one Dutch, Mule, or Rabbit, which I think is a shame. At least we Reds fans can point back 100 years and say, “My team had a guy named Boob, the only one in MLB history.” Out of 22,860 players in MLB history there has been only one Boob, which is rarer than a perfect game or hitting for the cycle.
Who was Exiting?
Playing first base for the Reds in 1923 was 39-year-old Jake Daubert, arguably the premier National League first baseman of the Deadball Era. In the American League, George Sisler was the standard bearer.
The problem with Jake and the 1923 Reds was that the Deadball Era was ending and Daubert was 39-years-old. Described as “modest, polite and colorless, though a tiger about money”, Daubert, like most players from that era, was more uptight about money than today’s well-paid union players. Daubert invested in a LOT of non-baseball businesses and was considered a somewhat savvy businessman. Records show that he invested in a poolroom and a cigar business, which seems indicative of what a ballplayer of that era would invest in—viewed as characters who tended to be rough around the edges. Daubert was ten years older than most of his teammates in 1923 and his bat was no longer delivering the impact needed to compete in the league, yet the Reds gave him over 550 PA’s and invited him back for the next season. It would prove to be a bad decision for all concerned. Daubert started out very slow and battled most of the season after a beaning caused sleep issues. At the end of the year, he suddenly became ill and was hospitalized. The doctors were unable to identify the problem and after a week he passed away at the age of forty, cause unknown. Years later, when his son was ill with the same symptoms, it was discovered that he had a hereditary issue involving his spleen. This time, the doctors were able to save his son from the same fate.
Who was Having a Cup of Coffee?
The end of the Deadball era ushered in some radical changes to the game, namely increased offense, and an uptick in home runs. As with most changes, there was a reaction, and in baseball the reaction is often as impactful as the change. In response to Babe Ruth, the use of relief pitchers became widespread. Hurlers who used to regularly reach 300 innings pitched a year, were now giving back some of those innings to fresher (albeit less effective) arms. The Reds, under the guidance of manager Pat Moran, were one of the first teams to switch tactics and use swing-men almost exclusively as relievers. This role was generally filled by a different individual each season and, in 1923, that player was “Cactus Keck”, who logged 87 innings and appeared as a reliever 29 times, finishing 18 games. Despite this brief burst of success, it would be Keck’s last season in MLB. He would leave the game after only two seasons with a total of only 218 innings thrown. He finished his career pitching as a starter (331 IP in 1926) in the minors, no doubt telling tales of his two summers in Cincinnati on the best pitching team in the National League. The following season, Moran would find another hurler to use in the role when the diminutive Jackie May appeared as a reliever a league-leading 41 times. In the ensuing decade, the reliever would become a normal and functional role.
Who was Managing?
“It was Pat who made a pitcher out of me, and I was fortunate to play under him in both Philadelphia and Cincinnati. Few men that I’ve ever known in baseball knew the fine arts of pitching as did Moran.”
~ Eppa Rixey
Baseball has always been a refuge for men at the bottom of the economic ladder. 120 years ago, the group that was climbing from the lower rungs of society was largely Irish American. Baseball was literally littered with second and third generation Irish men. Pat Moran fit the part. Born in the Boston area, he quit school to work in a textile factory to help his family, and in his spare time he played ball on local teams. His acumen propelled him to a steady career in MLB. A catcher, Moran was never a star, but had enough skill to be the backup the year the Cubs won the World Series in 1908. Much like David Ross, the backup catcher of their next world championship team 108 years later, Moran eventually found himself running a NL team once he retired. It was in this role that he excelled, receiving credit for refining future Hall of Fame pitchers Pete Alexander and Eppa Rixey’s approach in Philadelphia, and later shaping the 1919 Reds staff, taking both teams to the World Series. Moran’s time in Cincinnati would end much like Daubert’s with a premature death that saddened and shocked the game. It was a different time, when players and others in the game often died from maladies that modern medicine can address with a simple prescription.
Who was Running the Business?
1923 was the 21st season of the August “Garry” Herrmann reign as the principal figurehead in the Reds ownership group. Initially the ownership group started out as a three-pronged business, however the more visible political figure, George ‘Boss’ Cox, and the Fleischmann brothers found they were content to sit in the background and let Herrmann run the team, which he happily did. Herrmann also parlayed his ownership position into a larger role in the overall structure of MLB over the first two decades of the 20th century and had his hands on everything from the first World Series to the hiring of Landis after the 1919 series. Unfortunately, his time as owner produced only one championship and a thin margin of five more wins than losses (1892-1887). By far, his greatest achievements as a Reds owner were building Redland Field in 1912 and winning the World Series in 1919. The ensuing debt from building the ballpark caused great unrest in the ownership group by the end of the decade. After several years of poor attendance, a rival league threatening the game as a whole, and a World War, the team owed $400,000 to the bank with few funds to pay. The remedy was found at the end of 1918 with an agreement among the current owners to issue more stock and introduce more investors to the team. This infusion of cash immediately paid-off when the team used it to shape the 1919 squad, which won their first NL Pennant. The possession of team stock will show up again and again in the team’s history and cause strife in many future decisions.
What was the Attendance?
The franchise had the largest attendance to-date at 575,063, fifth in the league. This was a good era for attendance throughout baseball, but the Reds only experienced growth during a couple of years. They hit their first 600K season in 1926, but generally drew ~500K per year during the decade.
Any Hall of Famers?
Edd Roush and Eppa Rixey
Herrmann hired ten managers in the 25 years he owned the team and 60% of them are in the Baseball Hall of Fame: two 1890’s Orioles (Ned Hanlon, Joe Kelley), the longtime owner of the Washington Senators (Clark Griffith), the only man to play, manage and umpire in MLB (Hank O’Day), Christy Mathewson and Joe Tinker, the famous Cubs short stop featured in one of baseball’s most famous poems.