Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Happy Birthday...Malachi Kittridge

By The Common Man

This is usually Bill’s schtick, but he’s deposing someone today, so…

The Common Man wishes a very happy birthday to Malachi Kittridge, one of the greatest-named, and most disastrous baseball men ever. Kittridge was a catcher around the turn of the century for several clubs, including the Cubs of the 1890s, the Boston Braves, and the Washington Senators.

He debuted with Cap Anson’s Chicago squad as a 20 year old and immediately was the club’s regular catcher. Like many catchers, traditionally, Kittridge was a terrible hitter. In 16 Major League seasons, he never had an OPS+ above 81, and was regularly in the 30s. His lifetime OPS+, thanks to his .219/.277/.274 batting line is the second worst of all time among players with more than 4000 plate appearances. It is 5th all time among non-pitchers with more than 3000 PAs. Any way you slice it, Malachi Kittridge was a terrible hitter.

And his teams suffered for it. The vast majority of Kittridge’s time in the Majors was spent with teams who finished in the second division. By far, the worst was the team he was charged with leading, the 1904 Washington Senators. Washington had fairly high hopes in 1904, having purchased slugging 1B Jake Stahl from the Boston Red Sox and signing aging superstar Patsy Donovan from the Cardinals. But on April 12, two days before the season started, manager Tom Loftus, “announced that he has given up the direction of the Washington Americans. It was thought that Loftus would retain the position until Johnson secured a manager. Kittredge (sic) will have charge of the players until something is done. The team is in a chaotic state.”
Kittridge was put in charge of the club, but went winless in his first 14 games at the helm. After beating the Highlanders, the Senators dropped their next three, and here’s where it gets weird. According to The Baltimore Sun, “Kittredge did not return from the recent trip with his club…. Secretary Dwyer informed Kittredge that he was no longer a member of the club” (this article is behind a pay wall). So, what happened that got Kittridge thrown not just out of the manager’s job but off of the team as well? The following story about the road trip that sealed Kittridge’s fate may be apocraphal, but was printed in The Pittsburgh Press two days after his firing, under the headline “The Senators Know They Are a Real Joke”:
Old stagers, who have been through many campaigns, said the personally conducted tour under Mr. Dwyer beat anything they ever heard of either in baseball or minstrelsy. All they lacked was a band in linen dusters to lead the daily street parade. Seems the Senators got off wrong at the jump. It was pay day when they left home for New York, and Mr. Dwyer passed out bunches of money on the train. He handed Bill Coughlin $200 in old $1 bills that had swelled like a damp sponge.
The bundle was so large and thick Bill couldn’t bend it. He carried his salary under one arm like a loaf of Dutch bread. While transferring from the ferryboat to an L train in New York Coughlin hid the musty wealth beneath his coat. Even then he expected the thugs to bounce a piece of cheese or similar blunt instrument on his head. At the Marlborough [Hotel], where the Senators lingered, Bill asked the clerk to place the bundle in the safe. He did so, but was unable to close the door. The Coughlin pay day was too strong for the safe….
Mr. Dwyer also was good to Kittridge. On the same train leaving Washington he paid the little catcher $300, mostly in dimes and nickels, so Malachi said. He carried his load in his pockets until he sprained an ankle, and that was the beginning of Malachi’s troubles. Because of this lameness Kittridge missed the train out of New York by six inches. With a hook he could have caught the rear platform at that, but he was too lame and, besides, the curse of wealth held him back. From this mishap grew the complications which led to the attempted suspension of the coin-laden catcher.

Whether this story is true, or the invention of an imaginative newspaperman, it seems like Dwyer was one of the more colorful characters in the early American League. Just after Dwyer fired Kittridge, the Senators was sued by their own minority stockholders, who demanded Dwyer’s dismissal, claiming:
The affairs of the club have not been conducted in a businesslike way, and instance the fact that no bids or estimates were asked for in removing the stands from the old park [American League Park] to the new one [what would become Griffith Stadium]…. When the bill for removal was rendered, $16,000 was the amount charged, and this was considered so exorbitant that payment was refused…. This suit, in conjunction with the fact that money was borrowed in order to start the season, has caused the present crisis, and matters look so serious that President Lambert have gone to Chicago to talk matters over with the ruling powers in the American League.

Kittridge actually ended up staying with Washington for the rest is the season, and Patsy Donovan took over the club. Kittridge was likely very happy to be relieved of that duty, as the club improved only slightly, going 37-97 the rest of the way to finish 38-113 on the year. Our birthday boy, Kittridge, never managed again and currently has the worst winning percentage ever for a manager with more than 15 games to their credit. Donovan would have some success later in his managerial career, leading the Red Sox to winning records in 1910 and 1911.

So happy birthday to Malachi Kittridge, perhaps the worst regular player and the worst manager in baseball history. TCM is sure you did the best you could.  Kittridge died in 1928 and was buried in an unidentified cemetery in Bucksport, Maine, in case any of The Platoon Advantage’s readers live in the area and want to play detective.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So who managed at 0-15?