Sort of appropriate that during a week when it was revealed that a whole bunch of crooked New York City policemen scammed taxpayers out of millions of dollars of undeserved disability and retirement income, today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant happens to also be one of the most well-known corrupt cops in the history of NYPD. “Big Bill” Devery became one of the first owners of the Yankee franchise when he silent partnered with the notorious saloon owner and gambler Frank Farrell, to purchase the struggling Baltimore Orioles’ American League franchise in 1903 and move it to New York.
Devery was really nothing more than a super-sized Tammany Hall-backed bribe collector with a badge, who demanded tribute from just about every border-line illicit business in his Manhattan precinct. This slob used to stand on a prescribed street corner and accept bribes in full view of the public. So crooked was the Big Apple police force back then that a brazen thief like Devery actually rose to the rank of Chief of Police in 1898 before the decade-long reform movement initiated by Teddy Roosevelt and a team of muckraking New York City newspaper and magazine reporters, finally took hold.
Unfortunately for the cause of justice, Tammany Hall still maintained enough control over the City’s court system to get Devery acquitted of corruption charges and he was able to retire a free man, collect his pension and take full advantage of all the loot he plundered from his policing days.
There was enough of that loot for him to put up half of the $18,000 purchase price he and Farrell paid for the Orioles in 1903 plus finance the hurried construction of a playing venue for the new team in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan that would come to be known as Hilltop Park. The new club’s co-owners had such questionable character that their identity was kept secret for months as negotiations over the sale of the team and construction of the park were completed. Baseball historians are still a bit perplexed over the fact that AL President Ban Johnson, a man who was so concerned with the crystal-clean image of his league, would choose to comport with men like Devery and Farrell. The best answer put forth thus far was that Johnson needed their City Hall and labor group connections to get the new ballpark built in time for the 1903 baseball season.
Whatever the reason, Devery proved to be especially inept as an owner of a baseball team and for the most part, permitted Farrell complete control over all management decisions. His most famous interaction with the Highlanders’ operation occurred during the 1914 season. Farrell had hired the legendary Cubs manager, Frank Chance to skipper the team that season. By that time, Devery had learned enough about baseball to make it a point to publicly criticize Chance for poor decision making after several Highlander losses. The crooked cop-turned owner made the mistake however, of issuing one of his criticisms of the New York manager right after a tough loss while standing in close proximity to the frustrated skipper in the team’s locker room. Chance, who had a well-known reputation as a brawler took a swing at Devery but missed, as onlookers quickly moved in to separate the two.
Can you imagine if Chance was manager at the time Steinbrenner owned the Yankees or if Billy Martin was skipper when Devery owned half the team? There would have been a murder committed in the Yankee locker room.
As it turned out, Chance wasn’t the only guy growing tired of Big Bill. Frank Farrell had grown to hate his crude and hefty partner as well. The two men stopped speaking to each other and Farrell actively started looking for someone willing to buy Devery’s share of the club.
Sure enough two prospective buyers turned up but they weren’t interested in purchasing half a team, they wanted it all. On January 30, 1915, brewery owner Jacob Ruppert and construction magnate Tillinghast Huston paid Farrell and Devery $460,000 for the Highlanders.
Devery died in June of 1919 at the age of 65. Though everyone assumed he had plenty of money, the probate court declared his estate to be in debt at the time of his death.
This Brooklyn born right hander took 27 years to make his big league debut with the New York Highlanders and unfortunately, it happened during the worst season in the franchise’s history. Joe Lake had caught everyone’s attention when in his first-ever season of minor league ball in 1907, he won 25 games for the Eastern League’s Jersey City Skeeters. That same year’s Highlander team had finished with a mediocre 70-78 record. New York’s manager, Clark Griffith knew he had to find some younger arms because his top two starters, 33-year-old Jack Chesbro and 34-year-old Al Orth were both getting a bit long in the tooth. He had received a scouting report praising a hard-throwing young right-hander named Walter Johnson, but the kid had only pitched on sandlots and for company-sponsored semi-pro teams. This lack of experience caused Griffith to hesitate reaching out to Johnson and by the time he did, the Senators had already signed the future Hall of Famer.
So the Highlanders went and got today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant instead and Griffith put him in his 1908 starting rotation. It looked like a genius move when both Lake and the team got off to a quick start that season. New York was actually on top of the AL standings with a 20-15 record on June 1st. They then lost 12 of their next 16 games and after arguing with the front-office over the team’s reversal of fortune, a frustrated Griffith was let go and replaced by Yankee starting shortstop, Kid Elberfield. The “Tabasco Kid” proved to be a much better player than he was a manager. He skippered the team to a dismal 27-71 record and a last-place finish. Every Highlander starter ended the year with a losing record including Lake, who at 9-22 led the league in losses.
Still, when the team’s 1909 spring training camp opened, new manager George Stallings told the New York press that Lake figured prominently in his pitching plans for the upcoming season. It was a wise move on the part of Stallings. Lake already had a decent fastball and Chesbro had helped him improve his knuckleball. The second-year hurler used both pitches efficiently enough to fashion a noteworthy 14-11 record in ’09 with an outstanding ERA of just 1.88. But instead of keeping Lake, the Highlanders traded him to the Browns in December of that year for a 37-year-old veteran catcher named Lou Criger, who would end up hitting just .188 for New York in 1910.
Lake went on to do some very good pitching for some very bad St. Louis ballclubs the next two seasons before ending his big league career as a Tiger in 1913. He shares his January 6th birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher, this one-time Yankee shortstop, this former 20-game-winning pitcher and this former Yankee reliever.
|SLB (3 yrs)||22||39||.361||2.88||76||60||15||42||3||2||533.2||558||272||171||5||133||238||1.295|
|NYY (2 yrs)||23||33||.411||2.60||69||53||16||36||5||1||484.2||432||238||140||8||136||235||1.172|
|DET (2 yrs)||17||18||.486||3.18||54||26||22||17||0||2||299.2||339||161||106||6||63||121||1.341|
His real name was Wilbur Roach, but he eventually became known better by the nickname “Roxey.” A native Pennsylvanian, Roach seems to have also been a pretty astute businessman and before Ted Williams came along, perhaps the the best fly-fishing ball player ever born.
He started playing minor league ball in 1906, when he was already 23-years-old. He made his big league debut with the 1910 New York Highlanders, a surprisingly good team that would finish 25 games over five hundred that season. That was only good enough for second place, far behind the powerful A’s of Connie Mack.
George Stallings was the skipper of that Highlander ball club and he might have thought Roach had a decent shot at unseating New York’s starting shortstop at the time, the light-hitting John Knight. Roxey appeared in 70 games that year but hit just .214. Mean whiile, Knight had an offensive epiphany, finishing the 1910 season with a .312 batting average, which was about 100 points higher than his lifetime average had been up to that point.
Getting outplayed by Knight was not the only disruption that occurred in Roach’s career that year. George Stallings had suspected that New York’s starting first baseman, Hal Chase was involved with professional gamblers and was throwing games. When he became convinced his suspicions were true, he went to both the League President and the Highlanders’ ownership and demanded Chase be banned. Instead, the team’s owners, who happened to be big gamblers themselves, not only sided with Chase, they fired Stallings and made the first baseman the team’s new manager.
After appearing in just 13 games for New York in 1911, Roach’s contract was sold to a minor league team. Since he owned both a pool hall and a bowling alley back home in Pennsylvania, Roach didn’t need his baseball salary to survive but he kept playing minor league ball and in 1915 signed a contract to play for the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs. At midseason, however, the Buffalo franchise of the upstart Federal League offered him $1,000 more than the Leafs were paying him and he jumped the team to take the raise.
When the Federal League folded, Roach continued playing minor league ball, this time in Louisville. He also continued pursuing his favorite sports, which were fly fishing and hunting. Earlier in his career, he had purchased some land in Michigan to serve as his private fish and game preserve. He moved up there, opened a Ford dealership and pursued his passions. It seems that he was also one of the great fly tiers of all time. Known as “patterns” in the sport, Roxey’s Fox Squirrel Tail and Gray Squirrel Tail fly patterns have become famous worldwide among fly fisherman and are still replicated today.
Roxey was also proficient in another area as well. He fathered 14 children. He suffered a fatal heart attack the day after Christmas in 1947.
|NYY (2 yrs)||83||308||260||31||57||11||3||0||22||15||35||39||.219||.319||.285||.603|
|WSH (1 yr)||2||2||2||1||1||0||0||1||1||0||0||0||.500||.500||2.000||2.500|
|BUF (1 yr)||92||370||346||35||93||20||3||2||31||11||17||34||.269||.303||.361||.664|
Walter Blair was a back-up catcher for the New York Highlanders during the first decade of the team’s existence. After playing college ball at Bucknell and spending a couple of seasons in the minors, New York signed him in 1907 to back up their starting receiver at the time, Red Kleinow. By then, the native of Landrus, Pennsylvania was 23-years-old and had developed solid defensive skills behind the plate and a sharp mind for the game. His problem was he couldn’t hit.
It was his offensive inabilities that doomed his one attempt at becoming New York’s starting catcher. In 1911, then manager, Hal Chase pretty much alternated Blair and 22-year-old Jeff Sweeney behind the plate the entire season. Sweeney hit just .231 and still outhit Blair by close to 40 points.
That performance ended Blair’s Highlander and big league career. He went back to the Minors for two seasons and then played in the upstart Federal League for a couple of more. He found he had a knack for helping young ballplayers develop their skills and got into managing and even purchased an interest in a minor league team back in his home state of Pennsylvania. Then in 1917, he took over as the coach of the University of Pittsburgh’s baseball team. Three years later, he moved into the same position for his alma mater, Bucknell. He passed away in 1948 at the age of 64.
|NYY (5 yrs)||216||652||587||35||115||16||6||1||53||8||36||80||.196||.251||.249||.500|
I learned a lot about today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant by reading this excellent article authored by Bill Nowlin for the the Society for American Baseball Research. It describes a young man who believed in the power of education and as a high school student in Philadelphia, was genuinely torn between going to college to pursue a career in medicine or playing professional baseball. In the end, the immediate opportunity to start in Connie Mack’s infield for his hometown Philadelphia A’s was just too compelling for John Knight to pass up.
He would become as much of a national sports sensation as one could back in 1905, before radio, television or the Internet were around, when he was the Opening Day nineteen-year-old starting shortstop for Philadelphia and was leading the league with a .400-plus batting average two weeks into the new season. He wasn’t able to maintain that torrid hitting pace and it would be his inability to hit big league pitching that landed him in the minor leagues, playing for the Baltimore Orioles, by 1908. That August, Knight’s contract was purchased by the New York Highlanders.
Knight realized his future in baseball would depend on his ability to become a better hitter and as he joined his new team, he was determined to do so. His efforts certainly bore some fruit. The Highlanders’ first year manager George Stallings made Knight his team’s starting shortstop in ’09 and he hit a career-high .236. In 1910, his offensive epiphany exploded into a .312 batting average and he followed that up by posting a career-high 62 RBIs in 1911. In just six years, he had transformed himself from an offensive liability into one of the game’s better hitting shortstops and Clark Griffith, the former New York manager who now skippered the Senators, noticed. He made it known that he was interested in acquiring Knight and kept poking the Highlander front office with trade offers for the infielder all during the 2011 season. New York finally bit during the 1912 spring training season when they accepted Washington catcher’s Gabby Street for Knight.
His short stay in our nation’s capitol was a disaster. Griffith started Knight at second base and it seemed as if he forgot how to hit and field, both at the same time. He averaged just .161 during the first half of that year and was then sold to a minor league club in New Jersey. He would end up getting a second chance with the Highlanders after he hit .270 for his Jersey City team during the first half of the 1913 season. He did OK with New York, starting at first base and averaging .236 for a very bad Highlander team but it wasn’t good enough to prevent him from getting sold back to the minors at the end of the year. He would remain a minor league player for the rest of his career, finally retiring for good in 1928, at the age of 42.
Knight’s early career start in the big leagues earned him the most appropriate nickname of “Schoolboy.” At just over six feet two inches tall, Knight was the tallest shortstop in the big leagues.
|NYY (4 yrs)||435||1714||1494||197||399||59||16||6||171||63||138||213||.267||.338||.340||.678|
|PHA (3 yrs)||202||776||717||63||144||26||4||6||61||11||38||157||.201||.244||.273||.517|
|WSH (1 yr)||32||116||93||10||15||2||1||0||9||4||16||25||.161||.284||.204||.489|
|BOS (1 yr)||98||382||360||31||78||9||3||2||29||8||19||53||.217||.256||.275||.531|
Only eleven pitchers have started their big league careers with two consecutive shutouts in their first two starts since the 20th century began and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant is one of them. His real name was Judd Doyle but he became universally known as “Slow Joe” because when he was on the mound it took him forever to throw a pitch. When he finally got around to it, the results appeared to be pretty good, especially at the beginning stages of his Yankee career.
He made his impressive big league debut in late August of 1906 and finished his one-month-long first season in New York with a 2-1 record. The best year of his career was his second, when he became a member of the team’s starting rotation and went 11-11 with a solid 2.65 ERA. He continued to show flashes of brilliance on the mound. Jack Chesbro even called Doyle “…one of the greatest pitchers there is!” That probably explains why the Yankees never hired “Happy Jack” as a scout when his playing days were over.
Like Chesbro, Doyle’s best pitch was a spit ball but the only way Slow Joe would have ever had a shot at matching his more famous teammate’s record-breaking 41 wins in a season would be if that season was about 400 games long. That’s because Doyle liked to rest about ten days before each start, which would drive his first New York manager, Clark Griffith crazy.
He lost his spot in the rotation in 1908 and then got it back the following year. But when he got off to a slow start during the 1910 season, New York sold the right-handed native of Clay Center, Kansas to Cincinnati.
|NYY (5 yrs)||22||21||.512||2.75||70||50||16||29||7||1||425.0||367||187||130||7||136||205||1.184|
|CIN (1 yr)||0||0||6.35||5||0||5||0||0||0||11.1||16||19||8||0||11||4||2.382|
New York had been in the thick of the 1904 AL Pennant race right up until a fluttering knuckleball from 41-game winner Jack Chesbro got past catcher Red Kleinow permitting the winning run to score during the team’s next-to-the-last game of that season. Hopes were high that the team’s starting rotation, led by Chesbro, Al Orth and Red Powell would lead the Highlanders to the league crown in ’05. Joining that trio for the new season would be a young right-hander named William “Buffalo Bill” Hogg.
Hogg was born in Michigan in 1881 but grew up in Pueblo, Colorado. New York signed him after he won a total of 33 games for two different minor league clubs in 1904. At six feet tall and weighing 200 pounds, he was considered a “big” guy for his time and developed a reputation for being mean and nasty on the mound.
He pitched decently for New York during his 1905 rookie season but with Chesbro winning 23 fewer games, the Highlanders fell to sixth place. He had his best season in ’06 posting a career high 14 victories as New York improved to a second-place finish. After one more winning season in ’07, Hogg had an illness filled final year in New York and was released. He was trying to regain his health and pitch his way back to the big leagues when he died suddenly,while on a winter barnstorming tour in New Orleans. The cause of death was Brights Disease. Hogg was just 28-years-old at the time.