Wednesday, April 22, 2015
195. Bill Leinhauser: Ty Cobb for a Day
When it came down to delivering the manuscript for my book, The League of Outsider Baseball, I found I had run way past my intended target of 240 pages and had about 100 extra pages. Then began the excruciating process of having to edit out dozens and dozens of great stories and illustrations. In the end I admit the final product is much leaner and taut - it's Major League quality. Still, the cuts left a slew of ballplayers who wont get their due in this book. Today's story and illustration is from a two-page spread I had done depicting the 1912 Replacement Tigers. I decided to go with one character today to represent the group of nine guys who went from the street corner to the majors in the span of one day in 1912. If my book does well then perhaps the other eight will make it into a second volume next year!
Earlier that morning Bill Leinhauser was hanging out on his street corner in Philly with a handful of his pals. Now it was two in the afternoon and he was waiting to take the field in Shibe Park as a member of the Detroit Tigers.
How did Bill Leinhauser go from a Philadelphia street corner to replacing Ty Cobb in the Tigers outfield?
Most casual baseball fans know about Ty Cobb's horrifying temper. The one story usually told to illustrate the point is how he once leaped into the stands and beat an armless man who dared heckle him to a bloody pulp. When someone cried "That man has no hands!" Cobb defiantly yelled between kicks of his cleats "I don't care if he has no legs!" and continued pummelling the man until cops and teammates dragged him away. The story, though told over and over so many times, is essentially true.
The incident took place at New York's Hilltop Park on May 15, 1912. Cobb, the best ballplayer in the American League, was a natural target for hecklers. One guy sitting in the third base stands was especially vocal. Claude Lucker was a former printer who lost eight of his ten fingers in a press accident. Now he pushed Ty Cobb into the red zone when he called the Georgia Peach one too many racial slurs. Cobb did indeed vault into the stands and kick and beat the defenceless Lucker, uttering the infamous line "I don't care if he has no legs!"
As would be expected, the American League suspended the slugger, but what was unexpected was that his teammates - who cared for Cobb about as much as he cared for them - fully supported him and voted to go on strike unless he was reinstated. When the Tigers rolled into Philadelphia to begin their series against the World Champion Athletics, neither the League nor the striking players were willing to budge. Tigers manager Hughie Jennings had a big problem: if Detroit didn't field a team that afternoon at Shibe Park, the American League would forfeit the game to the A's and bring forth all kinds of costly fines.
Jennings met with A's manager and owner Connie Mack. It became obvious Jennings had only one choice - find a team. Since time was tight he couldn't bring up any Tigers prospects or players under contract with Detroit. He had to find local amateurs. Both Jennings and Mack knew any pick-up team would get murdered going up against the A's juggernaut. Mack's men were the defending World Champs, some say the greatest team ever assembled. The kindly Connie Mack told the Tigers manager that he would hold back his regulars and field his scrubs that day. Reassured, Jennings only had one more thing to do - find a team!
Since he was unfamiliar with the local baseball scene, the Tigers skipper turned to a local sportswriter named Joe Nolan. He in turn tapped Allan Travers, the assistant coach of the St. Joseph's College baseball team to find the players. The 20 year-old went to his neighborhood and scooped up eight "ballplayers" and herded them to Shibe Park. Each man was instructed to sign an official American League Player's Contract for a salary of $25 and told to suit up in the unused Tigers road uniforms. Travers received a $50 contract because he claimed he could pitch.
The real Tigers wore their street clothes and sat in the stands. If Jennings felt relieved that he had a team, it was short-lived. When the line up cards were exchanged he discovered that Connie Mack had duped him - every position was manned by one of his regulars including three future Hall of Famers.
The game was a slaughter. The A's pounded Allan Travers for 24 runs. At one point many of the 16,000 fans demanded their money back but were refused. A riot was close to breaking out but was somehow avoided. After the game Cobb begged his teammates to end the strike, which they did. Each of the striking Tigers were fined $100 - $50 more than Cobb's original fine for beating Claude Lucker back in New York! In their next game Detroit fielded their normal lineup sans Cobb who would return from his suspension on May 25th.
The guy who took Ty Cobb's place in center field and even wore his uniform was William Charles Leinhauser. He was a local sandlot player and accomplished welterweight boxer, but he wasn't Ty Cobb. Leinhauser went 0 for 4 with 3 strike outs against the World Champs. Besides his failure at the plate Leinhauser also managed to get hit on the head by a fly ball. Perhaps he could be forgiven since Travers was serving up gopher balls all afternoon and the replacement Tigers were run ragged chasing flies. Cobb's replacement never appeared in another professional ballgame, but he did go on to to become a highly decorated Philadelphia Police Captain and retired as head of the city’s narcotics squad.
The Replacement Tigers became a footnote to baseball history, significant in that it added eight players to the Baseball Encyclopedia whose entire career lasted only a single game. Only one of those nine would ever effect baseball history a second time, and not for his play on the field but off it. The starting third baseman that day was Billy Maharg, a scrappy neighborhood corner boy. He went hitless in his only plate appearance and left the game early when a line drive slammed into his mouth, knocking out a handful of teeth. He continued to hang around the fringes of professional baseball and by 1916 was a trainer and chauffeur with the Phillies. In 1916 Maharg got one more chance to appear in a big league game. He did as well in his second major league game as he did in his first: 0 for 1. He did however play a few innings in the outfield, this time without any damage to his choppers. The next time he appeared in conjunction with the national pastime was when he and pal Sleepy Bill Burns helped cobble together the fix of the 1919 World Series.