Rating Every Boston Red Sox Transaction from 1901

As a former history major in college, I’ve long been fascinated by butterfly effects, how one seemingly insignificant happening can lead to major historical events taking place. Combine that with my long-running obsession with over-analyzing every transaction made by sports teams, and you can understand how we got here: a series in which I will rate every transaction the Boston Red Sox have EVER made, at least, according to Retrosheet.org

Recently, I came across a YouTube series called The Butterfly Effect from Stark Raving Sports, which follows how transactions came about from a seemingly random event that caused one team to succeed or fail down the time. Even if you’re not a big time baseball fan, it’s still worth a watch, and I’m looking forward to future episodes being posted.

This series inspired me to jump-start a potential project idea I had in my teenage years, which is the exact series you’re reading now. In my research for this project, I came across a website called MLB Trade Trees, which shows how trades either benefited or cost a team wins based on Wins Above Replacement (WAR) from Baseball Reference. 

Curious to see who has the worst trade trees of all time, ranking #1 on their list of negative WAR is the Oakland A’s organization, dating back to their days in Philadelphia. Number 2 is an organization that no longer exists, the Louisville Colonels. Number 3? The Boston Red Sox.

Who made the worst trade in baseball history?

Quite infamously, the Red Sox made was is considered the absolute worst trade in baseball history by selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees to fund a Broadway show that the Red Sox’s owner was putting on. The show did fine, all things considered, so it was a win for the owner. But, this transaction only cost the Sox the greatest baseball player who ever lived. What’s nuts is, it’s not the worst trade the Red Sox ever made. We’ll get to that eventually. 

The worst trade in baseball history that doesn’t include defunct teams like the Louisville Colonels — who are a story in and of themselves — was actually committed by the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the same Reds we have today. They traded some young pitcher named Christy Mathewson to the New York Giants for Amos Rusie. Out of context this sounds bad, but Rusie was a great pitcher in the 1890’s for the Giants, and is a Hall of Fame player. The problem is that Rusie retired in 1901, so the Reds got destroyed in this trade.

Now, these trade trees don’t consider draft picks other than compensation picks for lost free agents, nor does it consider free agent signings. Still, the Red Sox have been brutalized in trades for decades, which we will see in future series. I’m curious to see a complete picture of how the Red Sox became such a picture of futility for 86 years thanks to poor personnel decisions.

Notably, the Red Sox also made perhaps the 2nd best trade in MLB history, one that isn’t typically mentioned. In December 1937, the Red Sox acquired some kid named Ted Williams from the Pacfic Coast League San Diego Padres for Al Niemiec, Dom Dallessandro, Spence Harris, and cash. At that time, the PCL was an independent league. So, MLB teams had to trade just like with one another. I think this trade worked out OK for Boston.

Anyway before we begin this series, I must offer some context. The year is 1901 and the Boston Americans are one of the inaugural teams of the American League, the same exact A.L. we know and love today. The Americans, with their red uniform socks, would eventually be nicknamed the Red Sox. The nickname sort of stuck and would be their official name in 1908. 

Now, let’s keep in mind that the early Americans were an absolute baseball powerhouse. So, starting in 1901, we get to see inside the minds of the Americans front office in building what would become one of the best teams in baseball through 1918. I don’t have to tell you why they fell apart after that… something about a George Herman Ruth character.

While the Athletics franchise probably has far more brutal trades to consider, the Red Sox are so interesting because of just how many horrible moves they are known for, so maybe, just maybe, we can make them look a little better, or perhaps worse, through this series. Perhaps, if I ever finish this series, I’ll dig into the Orioles, who actually played as the St. Louis Browns for a good chunk of their history, and how they eventually went from a perennial cellar dweller into the powerhouse we know the Orioles were once they moved to Baltimore.

So, sit back, grab some popcorn, and let’s watch the Boston Americans and their Hall of Fame manager Jimmy Collins build a winner!

How the 1901 Boston Americans Built Their Winning Team

Unfortunately, Retrosheet doesn’t list all of the signings of the initial team in 1901. These transactions only include moves after the opening roster was pretty much set. For the series, we’ll focus just on signings and trades, as well as a few interesting releases that may have cost the Americans future wins. However, in this initial episode, we must look at how Jimmy Collins built this team. It would become the blueprint of how to build a winning team in the early days of Major League Baseball.

At the turn of the century, Major League Baseball was still a relatively young organization, with the National League being formed in 1876, the start of what we know as MLB today. There were other leagues that rivaled them, but none were major threats and inevitably all of them folded, that is, until the turn of the century.

The American League was a real threat to the National League, especially when it was backed with enough money to poach some of the National League’s best talent. Chief among that talent was Jimmy Collins, who jumped to the American League from the crosstown Boston Beaneaters (today your 2021 World Series Champion Atlanta Braves. That’s right, Boston Red Sox legend Jimmy Collins was a Brave for the first four full seasons of his Hall of Fame career. The chance to become a player-manager and stay in Boston was impossible to pass up. So, Red Sox fans today should be damn glad he took the job.

The other major coup for the Americans was Cy Young, then the best pitcher in baseball with the Cleveland Spiders. As the Spiders fell to pieces, Cy Young had the perfect opportunity to jump ship and sign with the St. Louis Cardinals (the same ones we know today) in 1899. He pitched fine that year and the next, but in Boston, regained his past form with the Americans in 1901. While he was never quite the best pitcher in the league again in coming years, he’d have a huge 1902, 1904, and 1908 while otherwise just being a steady All-Star level pitcher – of course, there was no all-star game then.

With Jimmy Collins and Cy Young in tow, the Americans built a heck of a team, mostly composed of young up and coming National League talent. Ossie Schrecongost was a promising young catcher in St. Louis and Cleveland, and likely Cy Young had something to do with his coming to Boston. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t stick around past 1901, which we’ll get to in a bit. 

Buck Freeman was actually a teammate of Jimmy Collins in Boston, a first baseman who hit a whopping 25 home runs in 1899 with the Washington Senators, a National League team who’d cease to exist after that season. The American League team that eventually took that name was an entirely different franchise. Anyway, Freeman moved onto Boston with the Beaneaters, so it’s no surprise Collins convinced the slugger to come along for the ride. He’d never hit more than 13 homers again, but he’d prove to be a solid player through the 1904 season. Freeman played full-time until 1906, and got into only 4 games in 1907. Overall, he posted 18.3 WAR, which over 6 full seasons meant he was on average a 3 win player. That’s a solid first baseman, for sure.

The British born Hobe Ferriss was one of the first amateur players signed by the Americans. He’d put together a decent career as a league-average infielder, playing both second base and third base. Ferriss would have his best Boston years in 1903 and 1905, plus a swan song with the St. Louis Browns in 1909. Ferriss total 16.5 WAR over 9 seasons with Boston, so while he wasn’t league average his entire tenure, he wasn’t embarrassing anyone, either.

Maine-native Freddy Parent had appeared in two games with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1899, and it’s possible Cy Young told Collins about him, too. He didn’t play MLB ball in 1900, but in his AL debut with Boston, he had a 115 OPS+ with a .306 batting average and strong shortstop defense based on the limited defensive metrics of the time. Parent would be with the Americans all the way until 1907 before moving onto the Chicago White Sox. He had a career 27.6 WAR with the Americans over 7 seasons, meaning he was a solid 4 win player on average.

One of the few Americans we wouldn’t see on the team past 1901 was Charlie Hemphill, an outfielder who would go on to have a decent career, funny enough mostly for the Yankees pre-Ruth. Another former Cleveland Spider, Hemphill jumped from the St. Louis Cardinals (who he never got into an official game for) and played 136 games of essentially replacement level ball (0.2 WAR). Understandably, Hemphill was let go, but after an unproductive stop in Cleveland, turned things around for the St. Louis Browns. He’d be a league-average outfielder for the Browns and a useful player later for the Yankees.

Chick Stahl is a very sad story, because Stahl was a great ballplayer whose life was taken too soon by his own hand. He did have quite a few happy years, though, all of them in Boston. He began his MLB career in 1897 with the Beaneaters, for which he was a star level player. Unsurprisingly, he followed Freeman and Collins across town. His raw numbers were down for the Americans, but when compared to the AL league average, he was literally just as good. He was still an incredibly productive player coming out of the 1906 season. Sadly, apparently Stahl had suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts since 1887, taking his own life before the 1907 season during the Spring Training in which he’d been named manager of the team over Jimmy Collins. We’ll get into the issues with Collins during the 1905 season. Let’s just say Stahl was a hell of a popular and productive player, even as his numbers tailed off towards the end, posting 18.1 WAR over 6 seasons, yet another 3 win player on average.

The third regular outfielder Tommy Dowd was in his MLB swan song. He was the second-worst regular on the Americans, still producing 1 WAR in 138 games. He retired soon after the season. On the bench as a backup catcher was Lou Criger, another former St. Louis Cardinal whose Boston career was just beginning despite poor numbers in limited play.

Pitching-wise beyond Cy Young, the Americans didn’t really have too many standouts, with their third-best pitcher being signed after the season started. Wales-born Ted Lewis was the Americans’ second best starter in 1901, posting 3.2 WAR, the third best season by that metric of his career. But, his age-28 season would be the last of his career, deciding to go into teaching full time. This was actually a good decision and it was just the beginning of what would be a pretty neat life. Ted Lewis would go on to have a heck of a career in college administration, corresponding with multiple US presidents and became very good friends with poet Robert Frost. I think life was pretty kind to Ted Lewis after baseball!

With an extremely talented stable of position players, the best pitcher in baseball, and lots of promise, how would the already strong Boston team add to their roster?

The Boston Americans Transactions of 1901

The first transaction that Retrosheet mentions is the Americans March 1901 signing of Nig Cuppy as a free agent. George “Nig” Cuppy was actually a darn good pitcher for several years in Cleveland (of the National League) Spiders. Unfortunately, the Spiders would end up bottoming out and being contracted after the 1899 season, one of the last Major League Baseball teams to entirely disappear from existence. 

Cuppy pitched for the Braves (then called the Beaneaters) in 1900 with some success before ending up with the crosstown Americans. He would pitch only 13 games for the Americans, 11 of them starts, before retiring. Cuppy was the first positive acquisition for the Americans, netting the 1901 Americans 0.3 WAR. They get a solid C grade for this move.

Net WAR: 0.3 WAR

On April 27th, 1901, the Boston Americans signed pitcher Frank Foreman as a free agent. Foreman was a decent pitcher in his day. Unfortunately, he only pitched 8 innings for the Americans,, giving up 9 runs in that span. His one poor start cost his team -0.2 WAR, and he was released soon afterward. Since it was only one game and the Americans quickly realizing he was washed up, we’ll give this move a D grade.

Net WAR: 0.1 WAR

In June, the Boston Americans signed George Winter as an amateur free agent, the first non-veteran the Americans signed. This was a good move, as Winter would play for the Americans until 1908. Over all, the starting pitcher netted 11 WAR over 8 seasons. He was never quite league average overall, but he had three above-average seasons as a starter. Considering he’d be a part of winning teams for some time, I have to give this signing a B-minus over the long term.

Net WAR: 11.1 WAR

In June, the Red Sox released a couple of players, though neither were of much consequence, nor would they be afterward. However, on July 15th, the Red Sox released a 19-year old catcher named Larry McLean. While I won’t ding them much here, as his best years didn’t start until 1907, McLean would go on to a pretty solid career. Granted, the Americans wouldn’t miss him much. Of course, Jimmy Collins couldn’t have seen six years in the future, so we’ll give the Americans a pass on this release.

In August, after releasing aforementioned Nig Cuppy and another inconsequential player, the Americans signed Jack Slattery. He went 1 for 3 plus a walk in one game, then never played for the Americans again. As it turned out, Slattery would be a below-average player over 103 career games, so Boston dodged a bullet here.

In 1901, Retrosheet has just one more transaction for the Americans, and this one is a trade after the regular season! The Cleveland Broncos (the same organization that in 2022 was renamed the Guardians) traded first baseman Candy LaChance for catcher Osee Schrecongost. It’s not hard to see why Jimmy Collins liked LaChance, as he was a solid infielder for a number of years with the Brooklyn Dodgers, then known as the Bridegrooms. 

Sadly, LaChance would never deliver on the promise of his glory days, although he’d hang on with the Americans until the 1905 season. While he was an above-average defensive first baseman, his hitting was barely replacement level. Fortunately, the Americans got 0.7 WAR over four seasons, so he was still a positive contributor. 

Unfortunately, while Schrecongost didn’t do much for Cleveland in 1902, he was released and ended up signing to the Philadelphia A’s, for whom he was a league-average player for five of the next six seasons. It’s hard to put a negative on the Americans here, since the team he traded the catcher to ended up dumping him, too. The Americans would still have league-average catcher Lou Criger for a few more years, so in the end, the Americans still made out here. 

I’d rate this move as a C-minus, as they could’ve done better. Also, Schrecongost could’ve been a beneficiary of the tutelage from legendary Athletics manager Connie Mack. The trade nets as a D, though, thanks to not really giving the Americans much value, although technically the Americans gained 0.6 WAR over Osee’s 0.1 WAR with Cleveland.

Total Net WAR from 1901 Transactions: 11.7 WAR

So, how did the 1901 Americans do? They did just fine, finishing second in the American League with 79 wins, 57 losses, and 2 ties. They may have somewhat under-performed, with a Pythagorean Win-Loss of 82-54 based on 759 runs scored against just 608 runs allowed. Buck Freeman was a stellar first baseman (4.8 WAR), Freddy Parent was above-average at shortstop (5 WAR), as was Chick Stahl in the outfield (3.5 WAR). Of course, Jimmy Collins was a player, too, and he was still one of the superstars of the league (6.7 WAR). 

Yes, the Americans would miss out on Schrecongost, but ended up doing about just as well with Lou Criger. Along with the extremely famous Cy Young being otherworldly in 1901 (12.5 WAR), George Winter (2.5 WAR) ended up being their third-best starter behind Ted Lewis (3.2 WAR). All in all, their transactions made them a couple wins better in 1901, and thanks to the league-average exploits of Lou Criger, they didn’t miss Schrecongost behind the dish. 

As it turns out, the Americans’ winning ways were just beginning in 1901. The Beaneaters weren’t the only gig in town any more. Also, National League Boston team really missed the bats of Collins, Freeman, and Stahl. Fortunately for those three, this was only the beginning of what would become a championship core for the next several years. As far as the moves in 1901, the grades average out to a solid C-minus. The best move was obviously signing George Winter, who would be a good, not great pitcher for the next several years, but the Americans clearly still needed more pitching.

How did it all come together? We’ll find out in 1902!

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.
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