Monday, February 28, 2011

The Ones That Got Away: Cubs, Part 1

Of the three dozen or so most prominent examples of players, coaches, and/or managers who left Chicago early in their careers and went on to greater glory elsewhere, escapees from the Cubs outnumber those of our other local franchises. The most noteworthy from before World War II are recalled below.

Rube Waddell
Cubs, 1901

     Although he ranks among the greatest lefthanders of all time, Rube Waddell is remembered as much for his eccentricities as for his pitching. For example, he loved to chase fire engines, and would do so even during games. He came to Chicago in 1901 after two partial seasons with Louisville (which was then a major-league club) and a full year with Pittsburgh. He went 13-15 for the Cubs before his erratic behavior got him suspended for the last month of the season.
     Sold to Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, Waddell averaged 22 wins over the next six years and became the most proficient strikeout artist the game had ever seen. In 1903, when Waddell struck out 302 batters, no other pitcher in the league struck out even 200. His 349 strikeouts in 1904 established a record that stood for 61 years. He entered the Hall of Fame posthumously in 1946, whereupon Mack said, “I have seen all of the best lefthanders since the late 1890s, but none was greater than Waddell.”

Fred Toney
Cubs, 1911 - 1913

     The man who won the only double no-hitter in major-league history did so against his former teammates. Fred Toney broke in with the Cubs in 1911 and appeared in a total of 34 games between then and 1913, winning four and losing five. He didn't pitch at all in the majors in 1914, but he resurfaced with Cincinnati in 1915 and won 135 games over the next nine years for the Reds, Giants, and Cardinals.
     Toney's best year was 1917, when he racked up 24 wins, including complete-game victories in both ends of a July doubleheader. On May 2 of that year, he outlasted Hippo Vaughn and the Cubs in the greatest pitchers' duel of all time. Neither Toney nor Vaughn allowed a hit for the first nine innings, but the Reds finally broke through with a run on two hits in the top of the tenth. Toney retired the Cubs 1-2-3 in the bottom half of the frame to record a ten-inning no-hitter.

Cy Williams
Cubs, 1912 - 1917

     On the day after Christmas in 1917, the Cubs traded Cy Williams to Philadelphia for another veteran outfielder, Dode Paskert. Williams, one of the National League’s foremost home-run hitters in 1915 and 1916, was coming off a sub-par season in which he had batted just .241 with 5 homers and 42 RBIs. Paskert was an eleven-year man who had never attained stardom but could be a solid contributor on the right ballclub. The trade looked like a gift in 1918, when Paskert hit .286 and knocked in a career-high 59 runs for the pennant-winning Cubs while Williams continued to struggle. Between 1920 and 1928, however, Williams belted 197 home runs—more than any National Leaguer except Rogers Hornsby. When he retired in 1930, he had hit 251 homers and had topped the 1,000 mark in both runs scored and RBIs. Paskert had already been out of baseball for nine years.

Joe McCarthy
Cubs, 1926 - 1930

     Joe McCarthy never played in the major leagues and had never managed there either when he was hired as skipper by Cubs president Bill Veeck, Sr., in 1926. His veteran players never let him forget either of these facts—they called him “bush leaguer” or “busher.” Nonetheless, McCarthy showed his mettle early on by trading the fabled pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander when it became clear that the two couldn’t get along. The Cubs won the pennant for McCarthy in 1929, but he was fired after a second-place finish in 1930. He hooked on with the New York Yankees, for whom he won eight pennants and seven World Series (including two four-game sweeps of the Cubs). McCarthy’s career total of nine pennants tied the record held by the legendary John McGraw; it was later surpassed by Casey Stengel’s ten. McCarthy and Stengel share the record for world championships with seven. McCarthy ranks first all-time in winning percentage for both the regular season (.615) and World Series (.698). He entered the Hall of Fame in 1957.

Dolph Camilli
Cubs, 1933 - 1934
     The trade of Dolph Camilli to the Philadelphia Phillies for another slugging first baseman, Don Hurst, early in the 1934 season was in keeping with the Cubs’ philosophy of going with tested veteran players. Camilli had played in only 48 big-league games, while Hurst had been a top run producer for years—leading the league with 143 RBIs in 1932. But the trade soon proved a disaster. Hurst played only 51 games for the Cubs, hitting .199, and never appeared in the majors again. Camilli had an eight-year stretch with the Phillies and Dodgers during which he scored 88 or more runs every year, hit 23 or more homers every year, and knocked in 100 runs five times. His league-leading 34 homers and 120 RBIs in 1941 carried Brooklyn to its first pennant in 21 years, and Camilli was selected the National League’s Most Valuable Player.

Eddie Stanky
Cubs, 1943 - 1944

     When the Cubs dealt second baseman Eddie Stanky to the Brooklyn Dodgers, the move attracted little notice, and not only because it occurred on D-Day—June 6, 1944. But “the Brat,” as Stanky was called, soon made his mark. He employed all kinds of tricks to annoy and distract his opponents, and they usually worked. He led the National League in walks three times and in runs scored once, and played a key role with pennant winners in Brooklyn (1947), Boston (1948), and New York (1951). Leo Durocher said that Stanky “can't hit, can't throw, can't run—all he can do is beat you.”
     “If you had the bases loaded in the ninth with two out, and the pennant depended on it,” Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey used to ask his rookies every spring training, “who would you want up to bat for you?” The youngsters would name the usual suspects—Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, etc. Then Rickey would exclaim, “Wrong! You’d want Ed Stanky!”

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