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The Pirates 1909-10 Off-Season: One Big Change


The 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series over the Detroit Tigers in seven games, the first title in franchise history. The off-season that followed started off slow but ended with a big departure.

In September, the Pirates took a couple pitchers and a first baseman in the minor league Rule V draft. All three of the players would make the 1910 Pirates team but one was gone before he could make an appearance, an unfortunate decision in Pirates history.

Lefty Webb was a twenty-four year old pitcher for Grand Rapids of the Central League, when the Pirates picked him up. He went 11-16 that season, suffering from lack of run support on a team that otherwise, had a winning record. The season prior, he won twenty games for Newark of the Ohio State League, a league that was two levels before the Central League.

Late in Spring Training, big things were being said about Webb around camp, with comparisons to some of the better pitchers on the Pirates staff being thrown around. Pittsburgh needed another left-hander on the staff to go along with Lefty Leifield and Webb was thought to be the man for the job.

Pittsburgh also picked up first baseman Bud Sharpe from Newark of the Eastern League. He had previously played in the majors in 1905 with the Boston Beaneaters, but the last three seasons of his career were spent with Newark, where he hit .241 in 1909, playing 156 games. He was a smart player, strong with the glove and quick on his feet but he wasn’t much of a hitter, one totally lacking any power.

Sharpe would be joined in the battle for the first base spot by another minor leaguer, John Flynn. He was twenty-six years old with four years of minor league experience and had just recently established himself as a potential major league player. He didn’t hit much during his first three seasons but while playing for St Paul of the American Association in 1909, Flynn hit .265 with 33 extra base hits in 119 games. Combined Flynn and Sharpe would’ve been an excellent first baseman, but they were total opposites on the diamond. John was an all bat, no glove first baseman, without the foot speed of Sharpe.

First base was an open competition between the two players because the Pirates got rid of their 1909 first sacker, Bill Abstein. He had helped the team to the World Series in his only full season in the majors but he was not well-liked by the management, considered to be a poor fielder and bad decision maker on the field. When talking about the differences of Flynn and Abstein, one Pittsburgh writer said that Flynn could hit like Abstein but he is smart enough in the field “that fans won’t refer to him as bonehead”.

The third player picked up in September of 1909 turned out to be the unfortunate case for Pittsburgh. Had they stuck with him longer than just a few weeks into April of 1910, maybe they would’ve got a better chance to see the potential that turned Urban “Red” Faber from an up-and-coming prospect, into a future Hall of Fame pitcher. Faber had just one season of minor league ball under his belt when the Pirates picked him up. He went 7-6 3.24 for the Dubuque Dubs of the Three-I League in 1909, pitching 114 innings. He would be returned to his minor league team in April and after two 20 win seasons in 1912-13, he was picked up by the Chicago White Sox, who got twenty seasons and 254 wins out of him.

Pittsburgh had purchased outfielder Vin Campbell during the 1909 season but never used him in the majors. For 1910, he looked to be a strong candidate for the fourth outfield spot behind Tommy Leach, Fred Clarke and Chief Wilson. Campbell had played one major league game prior, a mid-season pinch-hitting appearance for the 1908 Cubs. Vin was described at the time to be a great thrower, excellent hitter, but not much of a fielder.

The Pirates had another future Hall of Famer in camp competing for a backup infield spot. Bill McKechnie was with the 1907 Pirates briefly, but had spent the next two seasons in the minors. A third baseman by trade, he was still just twenty-three years old and had batted .274 in 1909, playing 132 games for Wheeling of the Central League. He was showing well in Spring at third base but for the time being, regular third baseman Bobby Byrne had the job locked up.

That brings us to the one big change for the Pirates that off-season. They sold Vic Willis to the St Louis Cardinals in February. He had pitched four seasons in Pittsburgh, winning a total of 89 games, with at least twenty-one wins each season. With those 89 wins, came a 2.08 ERA, just 46 losses and an average of 302 innings pitched per season. The Pirates assumed they could fill the void left by Willis with in-house solutions, one being Babe Adams, who pitched just 130 innings in 1909, most of them coming later in the year. Also young pitchers, Sam Frock and Chick Brandom had pitched well in their brief time on the mound. They worked a combined total of just 77 innings. Other keys to the deal were the fact Willis was now 34 years old and starting to show some signs of his age, plus the fact he was a high-priced player on a high payroll team, who they thought they could replace with youth. There was also talk that manager Fred Clarke did not always see eye-to-eye with his star pitcher.

The team was set for 1910 with many of the same players as their championship team. George Gibson returned as the starting catcher, with Mike Simon and Paddy O’Connor again as his two backups. Dots Miller, who had a terrific rookie season in 1909 at second base, returned to be the double play partner of the great Honus Wagner, now in his 11th season with the club. Byrnes was at third base and the outfield left to right, as mentioned above, was Clarke, Leach and Wilson. Ham Hyatt and Ed Abbaticchio made up the rest of the bench.

On the mound, Leifield, Adams, Nick Maddox and Howie Camnitz were all back and ready to assume their regular spots in the rotation. Longtime veterans, Deacon Phillippe and Sam Leever also returned, assumed to be in a limited role for each.

The season was set to open on Thursday, April 14, 1910 as the defending champs took on the Cardinals in St Louis. When we return next week we will see how the Pirates would fare, as Howie Camnitz took the ball on Opening Day, opposed on the mound by Vic Willis, looking to show the Pirates that they made a mistake in letting him depart.

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John Dreker
John Dreker
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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