Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sherwood "Sherry" Magee - 105 Years Ago

When I was growing up in the 1960s, I was a baseball fan. I followed the Philadelphia Phillies, though they had fallen a long way from the heady fame of 1950 when they were dubbed "The Whiz Kids". I grew familiar with such names as Clay Dalrymple and Ruben Amaro, Johnny Callison and Bobby Wine, names that are less known today. And of course I cheered for Jim Bunning, Chris Short - the pudgy pitcher whose odd delivery resulted in him falling off the mound - and the aging Robin Roberts, one of the finest pitchers in Phillies history.

By 1964 the Phillies fortunes seemed to be on the rise and that ellusive pennant was well within the team's grasp for the first time in 14 years. Ahead by 6 1/2 games with only 12 to play, they were on their way to the World Series. Phillies fans could feel it, taste it! And what a team! Outfielder Johnny Callison narrowly missed being the National League MVP, and was awarded the MVP for the All-Star game that year. Third baseman Richie Allen was Rookie of the Year.

Gene Mauch was the Manager that year, and regarded as one of the finest managers of the bench. But he faltered that season: starting a 7-game home stand, Mauch decided to start his two pitching aces, Jim Bunning and Chris Short, in 7 of the last 10 games, 6 of those starts on 2 days rest (all of which they lost). The Phillies faded, losing 10 games in a row before winning their last 2 games) to finish one game behind the St. Louis Cardinals in a collapse infamously known as the "Phold." So certain were they of their sucess, that they even printed up World Series tickets.

The St. Louis Cardinals ended up winning the World Series vs. the Yankees. It was the greatest collapse in baseball history. And the Phillies would not come close again until they finally took it all in 1980. We came to know them as the "Sillies" during high school. I turned my attention to Football (Philadelphia Eagles) and Ice Hockey (Philadelphia Flyers who were born in the 1967 NHL expansion). At least they were fun to watch on TV!

What I didn't realize, as my interest in baseball waned, was the exciting history of the Philies and their players. Some of baseball's greatest names were Phillies at one time or another. And one of them performed a rather tough feat. Sherry Magee stole Home Plate not once, but two times in a single game! As David Andriesen of the Seattle P-I put it,
"Stealing home is a runner putting 270 feet worth of progress at risk, betting he can beat a 90 mph pitch to the plate. It's all or nothing, a stolen run or a painful out. No other play takes more sheer guts.
It has never been a common offensive weapon, but there was a time stealing home wasn't such a rarity. Ty Cobb pulled it off 54 times in his career. Jackie Robinson famously, and controversially, did it in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series, maybe or maybe not beating the tag by the Yankees' Yogi Berra. Rod Carew had a field day in 1969, stealing home seven times."
Sherry Magee would end his career having stole Home 23 times.

Sherwood "Sherry" Magee was one of the great players of the dead-ball era, 1900-1919. He could hit, run, field, and throw with the best, and played intelligently and aggressively. He was critical of sloppy play and unimaginative management, and occasionally his temper got the best of him. On July 10, 1911 his one-punch knockout of umpire Bill Finneran, who had ejected Magee for arguing a called third strike, led to his suspension for the rest of the season; however, he was reinstated after five weeks.

Magee was Philadelphia's left fielder for a decade. In his second year, 1905, he played 155 games. His 85 RBI in 1907 were the league high. In 1910 he led the NL in batting (.331), slugging average (.507), runs scored (110), and RBI (123), and stole 49 bases. Over his career he had 441 stolen bases, including 23 steals of home. On July 12, 1906, he stole second, third, and home in the ninth inning against St. Louis. During a July 20, 1912 game with the Cubs, he stole home twice. In 1914 he led the NL in hits (171), doubles (39), RBI (103), and slugging average (.509).

When Magee was not named Philadelphia's player-manager for 1915, he asked to be traded. He was sold to the Braves, who finished second while the Phillies won their first pennant. He played center in Boston until he was waived to Cincinnati in August 1917. He led the NL in RBI a final time in the war-shortened 1918 season, and concluded his ML career by pinch hitting twice in the 1919 World Series.

Magee played in the minors from 1920 to 1926, then took up umpiring. In light of his misbehavior in 1911, he was watched closely while officiating in the NL in 1928, and he performed very well. But he contracted pneumonia and died the following March. He was 44-years old.

But on July 12, 1906 Magee pulled off that rare stunt - stealing Home - in the ninth inning of a game against the St.Louis Cardinals by reaching base, then stealing second base, then third, and then streaking home to steal that, too. But on July 20, 1912 Magee outdid himself. Playing against the Chicago Cubs, Sherry Magee stole home twice in a single game. Twice! Amazing. Only eleven ballplayers have done that. Honus Wagner, fabled Pittsburgh Pirate, did it in 1901, Vic Powers, of the Cleveland Indians did it in 1958. Ain't been done since. Two steals of home plate by a single player in a game.

And one of those players in the record book was a Philadelphia Phillie! *sigh* Phillies fans rarely have much to cheer about. Consider this: The Phillies were created in 1883, and promptly won 17 of 98 games. Things didn't improve much. In 1915 , their 33rd season, the Phillies finally won their first pennant. The win was due in large part to a pitching staff led by the great Grover Cleveland Alexander, who won an impressive 31 games while pitching four one-hit games. Offensively, Gavvy Cravath (who set a modern major-league single-season record with 24 home runs, which would stand for five seasons until Babe Ruth bettered it), topped the league in RBI and runs scored. This would not prove enough, however, as the Phillies ultimately lost the Series in five games to the Boston Red Sox on a Harry Hooper home run in the top of the ninth.

Between 1918 and 1948 the Phillies managed one winning season - in 1932 - and never were serious contenders beyond June. So dismal were the Phillies financially that they were bought back by the National League in 1942. In short, they sucked. By the time the Carpenter family bought the struggling team, they were so lousy that, trying to change the name to "Blue Jays", Carpenter was villified by the students of Johns Hopkins University whose team held the Blue Jays name. They claimed that the Phillies' attempt to use the name was an insult to their school, given the team's reputation as a chronic loser. The experiment was dropped after only two seasons.

Phillies fans were suffering. In 1950 the "Whiz Kids" made it fun to be a Phillies fan again. But no Championship came thier way, as they lost the 1950 Series to the Yankees. Not until the glory days of the late 70s led to the World Series Championship of 1980, could Phillies Phans hold thier heads up.

Sad as their history has been, though, the Phillies have had thier share of amazing talent and wonderful players. Grover Cleveland Alexander, famous pitcher, Chuck Klein - the 'Hoosier Hammer' - the greatest power hitter in their history until Mike Schmidt came along; Steve Carlton, the pitcher I most remember. Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, Jim Bunning, amd many more. And Sherry Magee, one of the finest all-around baseball players of his time.

The name is mostly forgotten, as the years pass, but he was one of the bright lights in the Philadelphia baseball world of the early 20th Century. And 105-years ago he did something not seen in the last 50.

He stole Home twice. In one game! Go, Phillies!


Brooke said...

Ah, vintage baseball. It is steeped in Americana, and always a joy to remember.

Hopalong Cassidy said...

Long time no see.

Good in depth article on a lot of things I never knew about Philadelphia baseball. I particularly liked the information about Sherwood "Sherry" Magee.

"On July 10, 1911 his one-punch knockout of umpire Bill Finneran, who had ejected Magee for arguing a called third strike, led to his suspension for the rest of the season; however, he was reinstated after five weeks." If we had that kind of excitement in baseball today, television ratings for baseball would go through the roof.

In my absence, I've turned into a cowboy. (Always wanted to do that since I was a kid)

Best Wishes,

Anonymous said...

Did the team's 10,000th loss since they were formed motivate this post? :-(

benning said...

Jack, I had to check that out! Oy!

"The Phillies have become the first professional team to reach 10,000 losses all time.
Below is the Phillies all time record.

Wins: 8,811 Losses: 10,002

Current as of 7/18/07"

As Charlie Brown would say, "Good grief!"

Anonymous said...

Not a very flattering stat, ne c'est pas?