The 1904 Pittsburgh Pirates broke a string of three straight NL pennant winning seasons despite the fact they returned their entire starting lineup from the previous season. The main problem was they came into the 1904 season short on pitching and when they lost Deacon Phillippe for an extended time, they were left short-handed, eventually piecing together a pitching staff with unproven players in Patsy Flaherty, Mike Lynch and George Case who still combined for a 44-25 record but were unable to propel the Pirates higher than fourth place despite an 87-66 team record. With Phillippe back healthy for 1905 and Sam Leever at the top of his game, the Pirates returned with a strong five man pitching staff but they didn’t stand pat offensively for the upcoming season.
The first move the Pirates made to get better for 1905 actually happened at the end of the 1904 season when they added 25 year old first baseman Bill Clancy in the rule 5 draft. He had played three full years in the minors hitting .292, .317 and .303 from 1902-04. With a new first baseman now, the Pirates made a big trade getting rid of their first baseman from the last four seasons, Kitty Bransfield along with utility fielder Otto Krueger and outfielder Moose McCormick to the Philadelphia Phillies for another first baseman, Del Howard. On the surface the trade seemed very odd, they gave up Bransfield, who was coming off a poor season and replaced him with two options at 1B with no experience. Just like Clancy, Howard was a career minor leaguer and he was also two years older than Clancy but he did hit .316 for Omaha of the Western League in 1904, a top minor league of the time, so he did have more value than your typical 27 year old career minor leaguer that you would see these days.
Otto Krueger was a utility player coming off a poor 1904 season so he had very little value but McCormick was just a 23 year old rookie in 1904 who hit .279 in 125 games so it was odd that he had no trade value. The move actually paid off for the Pirates with McCormick because he quit baseball for three years before he ever played a game for the Phillies. Krueger lasted just one season as a seldom used bench player before spending his last seven seasons of pro ball in the minor leagues. Branfield played with the Phillies until 1911 but his best seasons there weren’t until well after trade, 1908 and 1909, when he finished in the top ten in the NL in batting average both seasons.
The other major trade the Pirates made that off-season was giving up catcher Eddie Phelps for veteran catcher Heinie Peitz. Phelps had spent his first three seasons in the majors with the Pirates hitting .256 in 193 games. Peitz had played 1104 games with a .275 career average over 13 seasons at the time of the trade and he provided stronger defense and throwing but he was also nearing a game total that usually spelled the end of most major league catching careers. They also returned backup catcher Harry Smith, who had been around since 1902 and third string catcher Fred Carisch, who made his debut in late 1903 to round out the catching position.
The rest of the starting infield was the same for the start of the 1905 season with Claude Ritchey at second base, Honus Wagner at shortstop and Tommy Leach at third base. George McBride was the backup infielder, he was purchased by the Pirates out of the minor leagues and prior to 1905 he had just three games of major league experience with the 1901 Milwaukee Brewers(current day Baltimore Orioles) of the American League. They also had rookie Homer Hillebrand, who not only pitched but could play first base and catch in an emergency, which is noteworthy because he was left-handed.
The outfield saw the return of center fielder Ginger Beaumont and left fielder Fred Clarke, who was also still the team manager. They needed to replace Moose McCormick, who came over in mid-season 1904 from the Reds in exchange for Jimmy Sebring, the regular right fielder from late 1902 until the trade. The Pirates again went to the minor leagues to fill a position for 1905, signing 29 year old Otis Clymer, who had just one year of minor league ball despite the advanced age, hitting .294 in 126 games for Buffalo of the Eastern League.
The other players not returning for 1905 were mostly late season players and seldom used backups. Outfielder Harry Cassady was put on waivers and signed by the Washington Senators. Pitcher Jack Pfiester was let go, a move that proved to be a bad idea just one year later when he became a star pitcher for the Chicago Cubs. He would go 70-40 with a 1.85 ERA in six seasons before he retired. Jimmy Archer was another late season addition from the 1904 team that did not return to the Pirates and like Pfiester, he would go on to have a successful career with the Cubs. He played another 11 seasons in the majors but he did not become a regular until 1909. Outfielder Bull Smith played 13 late season games for the 1904 Pirates but did not return for 1905 and he only played two more major league games,one in 1906 and one in 1911. Jack Rafter caught just one late season game for the 1904 Pirates, his only major league game during a 13 year pro career.
They were set for the 1905 season now which opened on April 14 in Cincinnati. They had an opening day rotation that consisted of Deacon Phillippe, Sam Leever, Mike Lynch, Patsy Flaherty and Chick Robitaille, who took the spot of Charlie Case, who missed the first 33 games of the season. Heinie Peitz was behind the plate, Bill Clancy at 1B(Del Howard began the year in the minors), Claude Ritchey at 2B, Honus Wagner at SS and Tommy Leach at the hot corner. From left to right the outfield was Fred Clarke, leadoff hitter Ginger Beaumont and new right fielder Otis Clymer. Fred Carisch, Homer Hillebrand, Harry Smith and George McBride were on the bench. When we return next week we will see how the Pirates handled the 1905 season, trying to get back to the top spot over the strong New York Giants team that went 106-47 in 1904 and returned much of that same team for the 1905 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.