The 1909 World Series pitted the NL champs, Pittsburgh Pirates(110-42) against the AL champs, Detroit Tigers(98-54). The Pirates played in the first modern day World Series back in 1903 but had not been back since. The Tigers went to the WS in both 1907 and 1908, losing both times to the Chicago Cubs. The secondary match-up of interest in this series was the one between Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner, each considered by many to be the best hitter in their respective leagues. Both of these great hitters led their leagues in batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage in 1909.
How they got there
The Tigers, as mentioned above, won their third straight AL pennant in 1909. Cobb was the catalyst to their offense but they also had a pretty good second fiddle to Cobb, Hall of Fame outfielder Sam Crawford. They went heavy with three starters all season. George Mullin, Ed Willitt and Ed Summers started 101 of the team’s 158 games. The rest of the pitchers on the team had a 29-27 record, so these three really carried them throughout the season. The Tigers were in first place all season but they never had a comfortable lead. On July 25th they had a 7.5 game lead but that disappeared in just 15 days when they fell back into a tie with the Philadelphia A’s. The two teams were tied as late as August 24th and the Tigers never pulled further than five games ahead the rest of the way, finishing the year 3.5 games up in the standings.
The Pirates season, from the off-season until the last day has been covered here the last six weeks:
The Position-by-Position Match-ups:
The Pirates used George Gibson almost every single day of the season. The pitchers loved throwing to him and runners hated stealing against him. He led all NL catchers in games caught, fielding percentage, caught stealing percentage and the amount of runners thrown out. His batting was a weak point prior to 1909, but he had a decent season that year, hitting .265 with 52 RBI’s. His backup catchers, Mike Simon and Paddy O’Connor, batted 38 times all season.
The Tigers had Boss Schmidt and Oscar Stanage behind the plate. Schmidt did not hit well during the season, batting .209 with a .508 OPS. He also led all AL catchers in errors every season from 1907-09 but the Tigers still won with him so he must have been doing something right to get the majority of the playing time during the regular season. Stanage hit .262 with a .639 OPS in 77 games. It was his first full season and defensively his numbers were comparable to Schmidt, but Boss would get more of the playing time in the series. Schmidt, by the way, was the brother of Walter Schmidt, who caught nine seasons for the Pirates.
Pirates used Bill Abstein at first base almost all of the season and he would be there every game of the 1909 WS as well. He was 26 years old, in his first full season in the majors. Bill hit .260 with 70 RBI’s but he was a light hitter, just 31 extra base hits all year in 137 games, and only one was homer. His fielding was league average. Ham Hyatt was the backup, although the only position he played in the series was outfield.
The Tigers had veteran Tom Jones at first base. He was acquired during the season, and on the year he hit .259 with 47 RBI’s in 141 games. It was a typical season for him at the dish. Defensively he was about average. Jones was 32 at the time and nearing the end of his major league career.
Dots Miller was a 23 year old rookie in 1909. He hit .279 in 151 games. He ranked third in the NL in RBI’s with 87, third in doubles with 31, fourth in triples with 13 and seventh in slugging percentage with a .396 mark. Defensively he led NL 2B in assists and finished second in fielding percentage.
Jim Delahanty was a 30 year old veteran in 1909 that the Tigers acquired during the season. He hit .232 on the year but was a little bit better at the plate after coming over from the Washington Senators. Jim was a light hitter with average speed. His defense was slightly below average and he led all AL second baseman in errors in 1909.
Donie Bush just turned 22 at the beginning of the 1909 World Series. He led the league in games played, walks and plate appearances. He hit .273 with 53 stolen bases, 88 walks and 114 runs scored. Bush was good with the bat, collecting 52 sacrifice hits. His defense was slightly below average, he led AL shortstops in assists but also led the league in errors. Bush would later manage the Pirates to the 1927 WS.
The Pirates had the league leader in batting, slugging percentage, on base percentage, RBI’s, doubles and total bases as their shortstop. He stole 35 bases, played strong defense and was considered by some to be the best player in the game. Honus Wagner would’ve had an advantage here over almost anyone in baseball, and would be no worse than a tie against the rest.
Bobby Byrne was acquired by the Pirates in August and played much better in Pittsburgh. His defense was amazing in the last 46 games and overall he led NL 3B in putouts and assists. It was a breakout year for him defensively, the two previous seasons he had led the league in errors at the hot corner. He was a light hitter, although that changed in 1910. Byrne scored 92 runs in 1909 and drew 78 walks so he made things happen on the bases despite a low average.
George Moriarty was in his first season with the Tigers in 1909. He hit .273 in 133 games with 34 stolen bases. He had a strong arm, good defense and good speed although he was described as daring so sometimes he ran into outs. Moriarty was a solid player but didn’t get on base enough or hit for any power.
Fred Clarke was not only the left fielder but he was also the Pirates manager since coming over from Louisville in 1900. He was a great hitter during his prime but he was starting to slow down at age 37. He still hit .287 with 80 walks, 31 stolen bases, 97 runs scored and he played a career high 152 games. Clarke led the league in fielding percentage and putouts but he lost a step in the field at that point. He was a smart player who made the most of his talent.
Tigers had Matty McIntyre in left field most of the season but when the WS rolled around, they were with Davy Jones instead. McIntyre had lost a lot of speed due to an ankle injury years earlier and his defense, along with batting average, suffered all season. Jones hit .279 with ten RBI’s in 69 games in 1909 but at that point his defense was the much better of the two so he saw the most time in the series.
Tommy Leach was a solid player for the Pirates since 1900. He had switched between third base and outfield for years and the 1909 season he was the team’s center fielder. He hit .261 with 66 walks, scoring a league high 126 runs. Leach played good defense and stole 27 bases.
Sam Crawford was a great hitter of the era. He batted .314 with 97 RBI’s and a league leading 35 doubles in 1909. It was the sixth time the 29 year old Crawford batted over .300 but his better days were still ahead of him. He is the all-time leader in triples, while the Pirates right fielder, coming up next, is the single season leader.
Chief Wilson hit .272 in a league leading 154 games played. It was the second full season in the majors for the 26 year old. He had a .374 slugging percentage, tenth best in the NL but he drew just 19 walks all season. Wilson was a good fielder with a strong arm.
Ty Cobb was the AL leader in runs, hits, on base percentage, slugging percentage, stolen bases and he also won the Triple Crown. At age 22, his career was barely underway. He struggled in the 1907 WS but hit .368 against the Cubs in the 1908 series and he was eager to show that he was the better player between he and Honus Wagner. After 1909, Cobb and Crawford switched positions.
Pirates had a deep pitching staff. So good, in fact, that Chick Brandom with his 1.11 ERA in 40 innings wasn’t even the best Pirates pitcher not used in the WS that year. Sam Leever, one of the best pitchers in team history, was the seventh best pitcher on the team that year. The pitching staff, along with their records(W/L,ERA,IP) are listed below:
Vic Willis 22-11 2.24 289.2
Howie Camnitz 25-6 1.62 283
Nick Maddox 13-8 2.21 203.1
Lefty Leifield 19-8 2.37 201.2
Deacon Phillippe 8-3 2.32 131.2
Babe Adams 12-3 1.11 130
Tigers went with three pitchers most of the season, George Mullin, Ed Willett and Ed Summers. They all started at least 32 games and pitched over 280 innings, while now one else on the staff made twenty starts. Ed Killian and Bill Donovan both pitched well, although their record didn’t show that fact. No other pitcher, besides these five, threw more than 64 innings for the 1909 Tigers.
George Mullin 29-8 2.22 303.1
Ed Willett 21-10 2.34 292.2
Ed Summers 19-9 2.24 281.2
Ed Killian 11-9 1.71 173.1
Bill Donovan 8-7 2.31 140.1
So now you have the match-ups for the series. Pirates with their pitching depth get the slight advantage in that category, while the defense and batting also seem to be slightly better for Pittsburgh. The series starts 0-0 though and anything can happen in a short series, especially for a Tigers team that had been to the WS each of the past two years. When we return next week, the date will be Friday October 8,1909 and the location will be Forbes Field for 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.