The 1909 Pirates Season Recap

The 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates finished their season with 110 wins, a still-standing team record that will likely never be broken. That win total has been topped just four times in baseball history and two of those times came after the schedule was expanded to 162 games. The Chicago Cubs had a 104-49 record in 1909, finishing 6.5 games behind the Pirates and the New York Giants were 18.5 games back in the standings despite winning 92 games. We have covered the game by game results over the last four weeks, including the first game ever played at Forbes Field. For this week, we will see who these players were that helped the team to their fourth NL pennant and their second trip to the World Series.

We start off with the most obvious player first, the great shortstop, Honus Wagner. Among Pirates players, he led with a .339 average, 100 RBI’s, 39 doubles, 168 hits and 35 stolen bases. Wagner also scored 92 runs and drew 66 walks. Among NL players he was first in doubles and RBI’s and for the third straight season he led the league in average, slugging percentage and on base percentage. It was his seventh batting title and the eighth time he drove in 100 runs or more.

Wagner’s double play partner that year was a rookie named Dots Miller. He would take over second base with an impressive showing during Spring Training and play 151 games during the 1909 season. He hit .279 with 71 runs scored and 87 RBI’s, the third highest total in the National League. He led the Pirates with 13 triples and 29 sacrifice hits. Miller led all NL second baseman with 426 assists and his .953 fielding percentage ranked him second in the league.

Over at first base they went with Bill Abstein. He had played with the Pirates late in 1906, but spent the last two seasons in the minors. In 1909 he was their everyday first baseman and although he didn’t hit for any power, he still drove in 70 runs and played average defense at the position. At the other corner, they started with Jap Barbeau, who hit .220 with no homers through mid-August before they traded him for Bobby Byrne, who finished the season hitting .256 with 32 walks in 46 games.

Behind the plate, George Gibson was there almost every single day. He caught 150 games, leading the NL for the third straight season in games caught. He also threw out the most runners, had the highest caught stealing percentage and the highest fielding percentage. The 1909 season was also the best year at the plate for Gibson, he set career high’s with a .265 average, 52 RBI’s, 25 doubles and nine triples.

In the outfielder, from left to right, they had their player/manager Fred Clarke, who hit .287 with 68 RBI’s, 31 stolen bases, 97 runs scored and a team leading 80 walks. In center field was Tommy Leach, who seemed like he scored every time he got on base. He hit .261 with 66 walks and 126 runs scored, the highest run total in the National League. His 29 doubles that year were the most he had in a single season during his 19 year career. Chief Wilson played a league leading 154 games in 1909 and along with Clarke and Leach, they missed a combined total of just five games on the season. Wilson hit .272 with 59 RBI’s and 64 runs scored.

With so many games played among the regulars, the bench saw very little time. Alan Storke was the backup infielder until he was included in the Barbeau/Byrnes trade. Ed Abbaticchio was the starting second baseman during the 1907-08 seasons but he played just 36 games in 1909, mostly as the backup to Wagner. A rookie named Ham Hyatt was the main bat off the bench for the Pirates, hitting .299 in 49 games. He played a handful of games at first base and in the outfield. The Pirates two backup catchers, Paddy O’Connor and Mike Simon got into a total of just 21 games with only 38 plate appearances. Ward Miller played 15 games before he was traded to the Reds for Kid Durbin in May. Durbin, the only other position player used by the Pirates in 1909, never actually played a position. On June 30, the day Forbes Field opened, he was used as a pinch runner. That was his last major league game and only game with Pittsburgh.

On the pitching side the Pirates were loaded with stars. Howie Camnitz went 16-9 1.56 in 1908 but that was just a sneak peek for what was to come the next year. He went 25-6 1.62 in 1909, finishing second in the NL in wins to Mordecai Brown(27), while leading the league with his .802 winning percentage.

Vic Willis had his fourth straight 20 win season since joining the Pirates in 1906. He went 22-11, leading the Pirates in games started, complete games and innings pitched. Lefty Leifield went 19-8 with a 2.37 ERA which was the highest among the six regular starters. Nick Maddox had the lowest winning percentage on the team with his 13-8 record but he still had a 2.21 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP so he had a little bad luck on his side.

The two 37 year old veterans, Deacon Phillippe and Sam Leever, each had their time limited to keep their arm fresh. They were both a couple years removed from their best days as NL aces but they were also still serviceable pitchers that would’ve likely got more mound time with a worse team. Deacon went 8-3 2.32 in 131.2 innings while Leever went 8-1 2.83 in 70 innings.

In 1907 the Pirates had a 25 year old pitcher named Babe Adams, who got a few starts before being sent back to the minors for more seasoning. He spent all of 1908 in the minors before rejoining the Pirates for the 1909 season. He would make 12 starts, pitch in relief 13 times and in 130 innings he posted a 12-3 record with a 1.11 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP.

Those seven pitchers combined for a 107-40 record and pitched well over 90% of the team’s innings. Chick Brandom, with his 40.2 innings pitched the most among the other six pitchers used. He was just 22 and had made his major league debut with the Pirates the previous September. Pitching mostly in relief, he actually matched Adams with his 1.11 ERA. Sam Frock got four starts and pitched 36.1 innings with a 2.48 ERA. Bill Powell was the only other starter used that year and his one start was in the third game of the season. He lost that game and made only two other relief appearances.

That left three other pitchers who made one appearance each. Rookie Gene Moore made his major league debut in relief on September 28th and gave up four runs in two innings. Lefty Charlie Wacker got his only major league appearance at the beginning of the year, pitching two innings of relief on April 28th, allowing two unearned runs. Finally, the Pirates added another Camnitz named Harry,the younger brother of Howie. He made his debut the day after Moore, throwing four innings, allowing six hits and two runs.

On the year the team scored 699 runs, the most in the NL. They allowed just 448 runs, the second lowest total in the league. They had an identical record of 55-21 in the first and second half of the season and they almost pulled off the same thing with their home/road splits. They went 56-21 at home, 54-21 on the road. Their best month by winning percentage was June when they went 19-3, although their win total that month was the lowest among the five full months of the season.

The season ended on October 5th and three days later the Detroit Tigers would come to Forbes Field, looking for their first World Series title. They lost to the Cubs in 1908 in five games and got swept by the Cubs in 1907 so this was their third straight trip to the series. Next week we will take a look at the matchup on paper and then it’s on to game one of the 1909 World Series

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.

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