Saturday, March 14, 2009

Random Thursday?: Doc Prothro

It's a little late, but The Common Man didn't want to skip this week's Random Thursday event because of his busy travel and baseball-game-attending schedule. This week's spin of fortune's wheel landed James "Doc" Prothro, a 3B in the middle of the 1920s for the Senators and Red Sox. Prothro's history is unconventional, to say the least.

Already 26 when he broke into the big leagues, Prothro got 13 good at bats in with Washington in 1920, but refused to report the next season when the team planned to send him to Reading for additional seasoning. After all, Prothro was going to be 27 and had a side career to fall back on. You see, Prothro was a graduate of the University of Tennessee Dental School and a practicing dentist, who could presumably make more money seeing patients in Memphis than fastballs in Reading.

This endears Prothro to The Common Man greatly, especially this week, since The Common Man's father has been a dentist since the early 1970s, and his brother is actively finishing up dental school. Dentistry has been good for The Common Man's growth and development, as it paid for several trips to the Metrodome a year. And The Common Man's father is the best kind of dentist, the one who provides dental services to his family free of charge. To this day, The Common Man has never had a cavity. Floss people.

Anyway, for three years, Dr. Prothro played town ball in the Memphis area before agreeing to an assignment with the Memphis minor league team. Prothro continued to practice dentistry in the off-season, and in 1924 was called up for the Senators' pennant run, got into 46 games, and hit .333/.394/.465. Prothro did not play in the World Series that year, the last hurrah for Walter Johnson, who also won the league's MVP. Traded that offseason to the Red Sox, Prothro saw regular action for the only time in his career, and hit .313/.390/.383 for a team that went 47-105. The next year, somehow, Prothro got into three games for the Reds and his major league career ended.

Teh interwebz seem short on info about Prothro's playing career. He seemed to hit well enough to play every day, but teams kept finding players they liked better. Washington fell in love with Ossie Bluege's defense (not a bad choice, as Bluege was regarded as a wizard at third and had some decent on-base skills). The Red Sox acquired Fred Haney (who hit .221/.330/.284 in 1926, oops). And the Reds had Charlie Dressen. Prothro just never quite measured up. Perhaps it was baseball's long-established prejudice against smart guys that worked against him. Prothro would return to Memphis and to his practice, but also became the manager of the Memphis Chickasaws and Little Rock Travelers. From there, sadly, Doc was drafted into the service of the Philadelphia Phillies, who he managed from 1939-1941. The Phils were at the nadir of their dumpster dive that The Common Man discussed when chronicling the career of Jim Carlin (indeed, Prothro was Carlin's skipper in 1941). Prothro's teams lost 106, 103, and 111 games, and he finished with a career mark of 138-320. In fact, Prothro's .301 career winning percentage is by far the worst of any manager to last three full seasons at the helm.

It's probably not that Prothro was a terrible manager. In fact, he had led his Memphis team to seven straight seasons of finishing above .500, and won three league championships in the Southern Association between Memphis and Little Rock. Doc can't be held responsible for a team that essentially acted like a baseball stock market, buying players at low prices and flipping them when their investment "matured." Consistently low attendance was both the underlying cause and the effect of this arrangement, as the Phillies were caught in a spiral of poverty and hopelessness that John McGraw himself could not possibly reverse.

Prothro's time in the majors leagues seems to have been spent entirely with the wrong teams in the wrong situations. But given that he returned to Memphis and became manager and part-owner through 1947, and his son became a successful coach in both college and pro football, and that, presumably, he kept pulling teeth in his spare time, maybe the good doctor had other priorities.

1 comment:

lar said...

Another great "Random Thursday" post, TCM. I think these are my favorites of yours. I never know what angle you're going to find to make them interesting, but you always find something. Good work.

I tried searching for some more info on Doc Prothro. The Baseball Index brings up some interesting looking articles if you search for him (esp. #8, "That Hustler And Fine Fellow, "Doc" Prothro"), but I couldn't find a good way to search for those articles.