This is game 26 of the 2012 baseball season.
In the first inning let’s take a look at This Week in Baseball History for the 4 week of June.
1911 The Red Sox lose their protest about A’s Stuffy McInnis hitting a ‘warm-up’ pitch homer, but the event causes a rule change. Warm-up pitches no longer end when a player steps into the box.
John Phalen McInnis, nicknamed “Stuffy”, was born September 19, 1890 in Gloucester, Massachusetts
McInnis was a spry right-handed line-drive pull hitter with a boyish face. He is best known as one of baseball’s best defensive first basemen, due to his amazing consistency covering first base.
McInnis gained his nickname as a youngster in the Boston suburban leagues, where his spectacular playing brought shouts of “that’s the stuff, kid”.
McInnis’ slight stature and boyish looks were the cause of some confusion in his earlier years. Once, before a New England League game, umpire Steve Mahoney asked Hamilton when he was going to get his mascot off the field, pointing at McInnis. “Mascot nothing!” snapped Hamilton, “That’s my shortstop and he’s one of the best you’ve ever seen.”
During his 18-year career in the Major Leagues, McInnis’ teams finished in first place six times, winning five World Series, and in last place four times. He started his career by becoming the youngest member of Connie Mack’s famed “$100,000 infield,” replacing veteran Harry Davis at first base for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1911, and joining Eddie Collins, Frank Baker, and Jack Barry in that fabled infield.
Following the dismantling of the Athletics after the 1914 season, Stuffy stayed on, suffering through three straight last-place A’s finishes. But whether it was feast or famine for his teams, McInnis remained a consistent singles hitter, an outstanding defensive first baseman, and a savvy clubhouse leader.
McInnis was signed by the Philadelphia Athletics’ owner-manager Connie Mack at the end of 1908.
In 1909, just 18 years old, McInnis was considered a potential rival for the starting shortstop position over Jack Barry, who had joined the major leagues just a year earlier. He stuck with the Athletics out of spring training, but ended up playing only 14 games – all at shortstop – in this first season. His major league debut on April 12 was an auspicious occasion for another reason, the grand opening of Shibe Park, the first steel and girder ballpark in the country. Jack Barry was injured, so McInnis started in front of over 30,000 fans, a huge crowd for that era. McInnis acquitted himself well, making an error but getting a hit as the Athletics defeated the Red Sox, 8-1, behind Eddie Plank. McInnis finished the season with only a .239 batting average, but made himself useful off the bench, as he became particularly astute at stealing signs from opponents.
In 1910, McInnis played at shortstop, second base, third base, and even in the outfield, batting .301 in 38 games. It was during this season that Connie Mack told McInnis to start working out at first base, despite his short stature and lack of experience at the position. Ben Houser, who was trying to become the A’s regular first baseman, tried to run McInnis off first every time he tried to take groundballs or throws. But in 1911 Mack kept McInnis and released Houser who had hit only .188.
Before the 1911 season, Mack determined that McInnis would supplant regular first baseman Harry Davis, whose production had declined considerably in the previous year. However, when, early in the season, Jack Barry became sick, McInnis took over at shortstop instead. He played 24 games at shortstop, keeping Barry on the bench even some time after he recovered, due to his hot hitting. Eventually, Barry reclaimed shortstop, and McInnis took over first base from Davis.
Typical of Deadball Era players, McInnis did not hit many home runs – only 21 for his career – and many were inside-the-park jobs. His most memorable home run, however, came on June 27, 1911 in a game at Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston. McInnis stepped to the plate to lead off the seventh inning while the Red Sox were still warming up between innings. With Eddie Collins of the A’s still on the field talking to Red Sox center-fielder Tris Speaker, Stuffy hit a warm-up pitch by Ed Karger into short center field, which the Boston outfielders were not in a position to field. McInnis circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run against the unprepared Red Sox. The umpire upheld the homer and on appeal, American League president Ban Johnson refused to overturn the umpire’s ruling or the Athletics victory, based on a new, soon-to-be-withdrawn, rule prohibiting warm-up pitches between innings. Johnson had implemented the rule due to concern that some games were taking over two hours to play!
On September 23, 1911, Mack included McInnis’ name on the list of the 21 players eligible to represent the A’s in the World Series. However, two days later, McInnis sustained an injury to his right wrist when he was struck by a pitch. Though no bones were broken, McInnis’ right forearm became badly swollen, and he was unable to throw even from first base to the pitcher’s mound with any speed or accuracy. McInnis did not play the rest of the season. In 126 games that season, he hit for a .321 batting average.
The Athletics won the 1911 American League pennant, limping into the World Series with the aged Davis replacing McInnis at first base. It was the second year in a row that McInnis’ team played in the World Series without McInnis taking a meaningful part in the outcome. However, with the Athletics up 13-2 with two outs in the ninth inning, and a 3-2 series lead, Mack put McInnis into the game defensively at first base, so that McInnis could say he’d played in a World Series. A’s pitcher Chief Bender promptly induced Giants catcher Artie Wilson to ground weakly to Frank Baker at third base. The Series ended as McInnis touched the ball for the first time, nabbing Baker’s throw for the final putout. For McInnis’, it was the first of five World Series with three different teams.
McInnis entered the 1912 season surrounded by great expectations and with huge shoes to fill. Harry Davis, despite his declining performance over the previous two seasons, had been one of the American League’s premier power hitters, and the A’s regular first baseman since Mack formed the team in 1901. McInnis responded to the expectations with an excellent season, batting in 101 runs, while batting for a .327 average. However, for the first time in three years, the Athletics failed to win the American League pennant.
In 1913, the A’s got back on track, winning the American League pennant for the third time since McInnis joined the team. During the season, McInnis batted for a .324 average, with 90 runs batted in, which tied for second in the league. His defense also improved dramatically, providing a glimpse of his future defensive greatness. In the World Series, the Athletics beat the New York Giants in five games for the World Championship. McInnis slumped badly at the plate in the Series, garnering only two hits in 17 at-bats for a paltry .118 batting average.
McInnis had another strong offensive year in 1914, finishing with a .314 batting average, including 95 runs batted in. The Athletics again won the American League pennant. They entered the 1914 World Series as heavy favorites over the Boston Braves. The Athletics managed only a lackluster offensive performance, scoring six runs in the improbable four-game sweep by the “Miracle Braves.” Stuffy again struggled at the plate in the Series, going 2-for-14. The entire A’s team hit only a lackluster .172 for the four games.
Philadelphia entered the 1915 season after losing starting pitchers Chief Bender and Eddie Plank to the Federal League, third baseman Baker to a rebellious one-year retirement, and second baseman Eddie Collins, in a sale by Mack, to the Chicago White Sox. The result was that they had no hope of winning even half their games, let alone competing for the pennant. To make matters worse, in July, Mack sold Barry’s contract to the Boston Red Sox, thus leaving McInnis as the sole remaining member of the Athletics’ once-feared infield.
McInnis’ next three years with the Athletics were unhappy ones as the A’s finished in the cellar in 1915, 1916, and 1917. McInnis, however, continued to be productive, batting .314, .295, and .303 in those years to remain one of baseball’s premier first basemen.
McInnis’ had an interesting encounter with future teammate Babe Ruth early in the 1916 season. McInnis was walking across the lobby of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia on an April evening when he saw Babe Ruth relaxing in an easy chair. That afternoon Ruth had defeated the Athletics in Shibe Park and allowed only five hits, including one by McInnis. McInnis walked over to the Babe and said, “You pitched a fine game out there today, Babe. That fastball of yours was really hopping all afternoon.”
McInnis later reported that although he had batted against Ruth many times in the past, the Babe looked him squarely in the eye and said, “Yeah, kid, it was a pretty good game. Glad you could get out to the ballpark and see it.”
After the end of the 1917 season, Mack demanded that McInnis take a salary cut. When McInnis refused, Mack traded him to the Boston Red Sox in January 1918.
After nine years with the Athletics, McInnis helped lead his new team to the war-shortened 1918 American League pennant. The Red Sox won the World Series four games to two primarily on the pitching of Babe Ruth and Carl Mays, but also with the timely hitting of McInnis and a few teammates. In the first game, McInnis singled home the only run of the game in the fourth inning as Babe Ruth shut out the Cubs, 1-0. In Game Three, McInnis singled in the fourth and scored the deciding run on a squeeze bunt by Everett Scott in a 2-1 Red Sox victory. For the Series McInnis batted .250, well above the team’s lowly .186 average.
Boston’s fortunes fell in 1919, 1920, and 1921, as first Mays and then Ruth were traded. The team finished in the bottom half of the American League each season, as McInnis again found himself on a team that had been dismantled for cash by its owner. McInnis hit for averages of .305, .297, and .307 in the three years, respectively.
It was during this period that McInnis honed his first base defense to a point of near-infallibility. In 1919, he made seven errors in 118 games for a .995 fielding average. In 1920, he again made seven errors, this time in 148 games, for a league-leading .996 fielding average. In 1921, McInnis made only one error in 152 games for a record .9993 fielding average.
Even that single error was debatable. It occurred on May 31st in Fenway Park against the Athletics. Jimmy Dykes was leading off first and the Red Sox catcher fired to McInnis on an attempted pick-off play. McInnis dropped the ball on the tag and the official scorer charged him with an error. The next season, Dykes, knowing that was the only error McInnis committed all year, would bring the play up whenever he got to first base against the Red Sox. He would say, “You know, Stuffy, that really wasn’t an error. I was safe either way, whether you dropped it or not.”
According to Dykes, McInnis would purse his lips and make believe he wasn’t listening. Finally, during one game when Dykes brought up the play once again, McInnis said out of the corner of his mouth without looking at Dykes, “Shut up Dykes. You just shut up about it. If you mention that error one more time, so help me Dykes, so help me . . . “
Before the 1922 season, McInnis was traded to the Cleveland Indians. He hit for a .305 batting average, making only five errors in 140 games. Cleveland finished fourth in the American League. After the season, McInnis was released on waivers. He signed with the Boston Braves, with whom he spent two seasons, batting .315 and .291 in 1923 and 1924, respectively. The Braves finished at or near the bottom of the National League in both seasons, and released McInnis in April 1925.
McInnis ultimately signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates for 1925. Playing in only 59 games, he hit for a .368 average, with a .437 on-base percentage. McInnis’ veteran leadership was instrumental in helping the young Pirates win the National League pennant. In the World Series against the Washington Senators, the Pirates lost three of the first four games. John McGraw, whose Giants had lost to the Senators the previous year, suggested to Pirates manager Bill McKechnie that he play McInnis at first base instead of the struggling George Grantham, to take advantage of McInnis’ World Series experience. McKechnie took McGraw’s advice and the Pirates won three straight to come back for an improbable World Series win. McInnis’ steadying hand and timely hitting were major contributors to the Pirates comeback.
McInnis played part-time for the Pirates again in 1926. He hit for a .299 average, but recorded only 127 at-bats in 47 games. The Pirates finished third in the National League.
For his 18-year big league career, McInnis batted .308 and hit over .300 14 times. He was known as a consummate contact hitter, striking out only 189 times in about 8,200 career at-bats. For three years of his career, he struck out fewer than 10 times in over 500 plate appearances. In 1922, McInnis struck out only five times in 550 at-bats. In 1924, he whiffed only six times in almost 600 at-bats.
While McInnis was an excellent hitter, it was as a fielder that he truly left a legacy. He was one of the earliest first basemen to excel at catching throws one-handed and he did so in a way that appeared natural and not flashy. His one-handed style enabled him to reach for high and wide throws, and helped him overcome the disadvantage of his rather short stature. He is also credited as the inventor of the “knee reach,” during which maneuver he performed a full, ground-level split in stretching for a throw. According to one report, he was also the first to wear the claw-type first baseman’s glove to improve his efficiency in scooping balls out of the dirt.
In 1927, McInnis returned to Philadelphia as manager of the Phillies. Despite some early-season heroics by the perpetually woeful “Flying Phils,” the team lost 103 games and ended up in its usual spot at the bottom of the National League.
In 1928, McInnis served as player-manager in the minor leagues. The 38-year old batted .339 in part-time duty. He went on to coach baseball at Norwich University, Cornell and Harvard. After six seasons of coaching Harvard, McInnis resigned in 1954 because of failing health.
Stuffy McInnis died on February 16, 1960 in Ipswich, Massachusetts at the age of 69.
A large part of this biography comes from the SABR Baseball Biography Project written by Aaron Davis and C. Paul Rogers III. It can be found online at http://bioproj.sabr.org
Leave a comment at the BHP web site at baseballhistorypodcast.com or write a review on iTunes, search for Baseball History Podcast.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well, that’s it for today’s Baseball History Podcast. I’ll see you later at the ballpark.