Saturday, December 17, 2016

Seasons in Time: 1914 (Part 2 of 5)

(In this series, I will recap in a series of posts one season of Braves baseball from Boston-to-Atlanta and everything in between. If you have a particular season you'd like to see reviewed, let me know in the comments.)

Part 1 - Prologue

Part 2 - The Road Trip that Wouldn't End

You can't have a great comeback without something bad happening first. With that in mind, the 1914 Braves had a horrendous beginning to the season. With just two holdovers from the previous year's starting lineup, the team needed time to come together and that time did not come in April or May.

The season opened with a rain-soaked series in Brooklyn where the Braves only played twice - losing both games. They headed south to Philadelphia where they would drop a third game before finally pulling out a victory with a ninth-inning run to win 4-3. However, they would win just one more time in April. Fortunately, they only logged nine games during the month, but their 2-7 finish already put them in a six game hole behind the Pirates. They had plated just 21 runs - the worst in baseball.

Otto Hess By unknown author [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
May didn't get off to a much better start. The Giants whipped Dick Crutcher and the Braves 11-2 on the first day of May before Hub Perdue took his third loss against the Phillies the next day. Cutcher and Perdue were part of the supporting cast that was holding things together while Bill James and Otto Hess were out with injury. Braves manager George Stallings attempted to not ride his other two horses, Dick Rudolph and Lefty Tyler, too much which made Crutcher and Perdue even more important early on. Fortunately for Boston, the reinforcements were on their way. The May 2 loss charged to Purdue also saw James make his season debut in relief. He wouldn't stay in relief for long. Hess would be on his way back as well.

After a win on May 4, Boston went into a tale spin. It was the kind of thing that Boston fans had grown used to seeing from the squad. The Braves arrived in New York to battle the Giants - they lost all three, including a 2-0 letdown in which Christy Mathewson out-dueled Tyler. After a one-game set with the Pirates turned into a loss, Boston lost four consecutive in Cincinnati. They were now a miserable 3-16 on the year. All told, they dropped seven straight with one tie included. It would be their longest losing streak of the year.

Odd makers were putting the Braves' prospects of becoming champs as 1,000-to-1 and those odds were only increasing. All of the hope that the Braves had of building on 1913's strong season were evaporating and the road trip from Hell was a long way from ending. The Braves had hit the road on May 7. They would return to Boston nearly a month later. They did salvage something after ending their seven-game slide by going 8-10 over the rest of the trip. It was a modest improvement, but considering that the team won just 4-of-its-first-23 games, the Braves would take any sort of positives as they returned home to Boston on June 5.

On that day, they were 11-26 on the season and 12.5 games back. They were averaging just 2.8 runs per game and hitting .224 with a .283 OBP as a team. Their pitching staff had a good, but not great 3.58 ERA. However, they were finally getting all of their starters back. Otto Hess had returned on May 22 and gave them a competent fourth option. Hess, who was born in Switzerland, only pitched 14 games for the Braves in 1914. The Big Three of Rudolph, Tyler, and James would eventually take over nearly every start down the stretch. Regardless, Hess gained the admiration of his manager, who called him, "our old reliable Otto Hess."

The Braves made a rather interesting, though not well known move in the first two months of the 1914 season. In mid-April, the Boston Braves purchased Clarence Kraft from Brooklyn. Already 27 years-old, Kraft was known for his power in the minors and the Braves hoped he could give their lineup a boost. However, he never seemed to fit into the team Stallings wanted on the field and after three games, he was sent back to Brooklyn. The Superbas (later known as the Dodgers) tried to send Kraft back to the minors and he refused to report and sought the help of the Base Ball Player's Fraternity, one of the first player unions. Because of a new rule that the league adopted to appease players and keep them from jumping to the newly minted Federal League, players were supposed to be offered to all Double-A teams before a parent club tried to demote the player to a lower classified team. By that rule, instead of rejoining Nashville of the Southern Association, Kraft should have gone to Newark of the International League.

Maranville By Chicago Daily News
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
That conflict could have had lasting ramifications as the Fraternity threatened to strike. Had it happened, the 1914 Miracle Braves would have dealt with yet another obstacle. Ultimately, cooler heads prevailed and Charles Ebbets, the owner of Brooklyn, paid off Nashville to drop their claim and Kraft headed to Newark to finish the year. Kraft would play ten more years in the minors, but was never able to make it back to the bigs like he did for a three-game cameo with Boston in 1914.

While the pitching staff was rounding into form as their top pitchers returned, the offense's problems stemmed from poor play out of their best options. Rabbit Maranville was hitting just .193 with a .250 on-base percentage as they returned to Boston. For the first 37 games of the season, he had hit in one the top three spots in the lineup each day. In addition, starting center fielder Les Mann had played in all but one of the games and was slashing a putrid .164/.214/.264. Maranville and Mann were both in their second seasons after playing a key role in getting Boston turned toward the right direction the previous year. Now, both were playing pivotal in bringing the Braves down.

With the final four-plus months of the 1914 season looming, the Boston Braves were at a crossroads. How long could they continue to flounder before the season was completely lost? Fortunately, they were about to find their footing in a big way. All they needed was the most embarrassing loss of the 1914 season.

Seasons in Time: 1914

Part 1 - Prologue
Part 2 - The Road Trip that Wouldn't End
Part 3 - Finding Their Footing
Part 4 - Unfazed on the Biggest Stage
Part 5 - Epilogue

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