As mentioned previously, the Pittsburgh Pirates had lost their best starter to injury, Deacon Phillippe, on June 16 after his 5-1 win. They stood in 4th place in the NL standings, just six games out of first place. Without Phillippe though, it was going to be tough to just keep up the same pace they were on so unless they could jump over three teams in the standings, their three year run of National League pennants would come to an end. They had the same offense as in 1903 but most of the players were having slightly down years, the manager/left fielder Fred Clarke also missed a lot of time with a leg injury, so they would need to rely on star pitcher Sam Leever and some new blood in the rotation to get them back to the top spot in the division they had become accustomed to holding.
The Pirates replaced Phillippe with a star college pitcher named Mike Lynch, who was undefeated while attending Brown University. He would make his first career start just five days after Deacon was hurt and he won 9-6 over the Cardinals in St Louis. With him in the rotation the Pirates started winning but they weren’t moving up the standings because the three teams ahead of them were playing well. In fact, despite being 15-8 since Phillippe got hurt, on July 15th the Pirates were now 12 games out and still in 4th place.
There was more help for the rotation on the way in the person of Charlie Case. He had played for the Cincinnati Reds in 1901 but was sent back to the minors after just three starts. He had been in the minor leagues since then when the Pirates bought his contract from the Springfield Hustlers, a B level minor league team. He won his first start and for the most part replaced Roscoe Miller in the rotation as Miller made just two more starts, one during a doubleheader.
The problem with the NL that year for the Pirates, was the a huge difference between the good and bad teams. The Pirates with Lynch, Leever, Case and Patsy Flaherty all pitching well, went 12-6 since Case made his first start and yet they only picked up a half game in the standings, although they did move up to 3rd place ahead of the Reds. The three worst teams in the league, Boston, Brooklyn and Philadelphia were getting beat by everyone pretty regularly to the point all of them were over 30 games out of first place with at least 50 games left on their schedule. With a large number of games remaining against the better teams, the chance to win the NL crown was basically over for the Pirates despite the return of Phillippe on August 18th.
The Pirates had eight straight games against the first place Giants in mid-August and while they split the series four games apiece, all that did was keep the Pirates where they started the series at, while the end of the season got closer. The Pirates made one more run in early September when they swept the Cubs in a five game series but the Giants were too strong. Pittsburgh struck short-term gold again with another minor league pitcher when the signed Chick Robitaille. The 25 year old righty won his first three starts but when the Pirates took on the Giants on September 23rd they needed to sweep the four game series or be eliminated from the title run. They won big in the first game but the Giants two future Hall of Famers, Christy Mathewson and Iron Joe McGinnity, both won their games. Eliminated from the division, the Pirates went into an eight game losing streak that eventually dropped them to fourth place where they would finish despite an 87-66 record.
The four pitchers the Pirates acquired or signed during the season, Flaherty, Case, Robitaille and Lynch combined for a 48-28 record while the two pitchers they acquired prior to the start of the season, Wyatt Lee and Miller went just 8-9. The real disappointment was the performances of Phillippe and Leever who combined for a 28-21 record, one season after winning 50 combined games. The rookie, Howie Camnitz went 1-4 in 10 games. He would return to the minors until 1907 when he would begin to establish himself at a star in the Pirates rotation. Doc Scanlan, Bucky Veil and Jack Pfiester all got early season starts while the Pirates tried to sort out their rotation but along with another 1903 holdover, Lew Moren(who only pitched once in relief), they were all gone before the end of the season.
The offense was led by Honus Wagner, who won his 3rd batting title by hitting .349 and he also led the NL in doubles with 44 and steals with 53. It was also the third time he led the NL in each of those categories. Fred Clarke played a career low 72 games but he hit .306 on the season, the 8th time he hit over .300 in his career. Ginger Beaumont hit .301, his lowest average in four seasons but he led the NL in hits for the third straight season. Despite these three stars batting over .300 the team batted just .258 on the year and that was with Beaumont leading the NL in at-bats. The Pirates also traded right fielder Jimmy Sebring in August, picking up rookie Moose McCormick from the Giants. The trade worked out great for the Pirates as Sebring batted just .225 the rest of the way while Moose hit .290 playing the outfield everyday.
The Pirates regular season schedule ended on October 9th win a 2-1 win over the Cubs but they weren’t done playing. When we return next week we will see why the Pirates season didn’t end when the schedule did and how they attacked the 1904-05 off-season.
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.