Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Tristram E. Speaker (April 4, 1888 in Hubbard, Texas - December 8, 1958 in Lake Whitney, Texas ), nicknamed “Spoke” (a play on his last name) and “Grey Eagle” (for his prematurely graying hair), was an American baseball player considered to be the best defensive center fielder to ever play the game. Speaker was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame during the second year of voting, 1937.
Tris Speaker was born on Wednesday, April 4, 1888 in Hubbard, Texas, Archie and Nancy Peer Speaker. He suffered a broken right arm in a fall from a horse so was forced to use his left hand for throwing. Eventually he became very comfortable with it and stayed a southpaw even when his right arm healed. Then his left arm was injured in a football accident. Surgeons advised amputation, but he refused. He recovered to become one of baseball’s great hitters and outfielders, a manager of a world’s championship team and seventh member of the game’s Hall of Fame. In 1905 Speaker played his one and only year of college baseball for Fort Worth Polytechnic Institute.
The indomitable will of young Speaker attracted a discerning baseball man, Doak Roberts , then owner of the Cleburne Railroaders , a Houston club of the Texas League, in the town of Cleburne in 1906. Speaker ended up batting .318 for the Railroaders. He wanted to be a professional ballplayer, but his mother opposed his being “sold into slavery.” She said she would never give her consent to her son’s going to Boston (named the Red Sox in 1907), even after he had made a success at Houston. Roberts had faith that young Speaker would make the grade, and he sold the youngster to the Sox for $800 – the Boston scout beating the St. Louis Browns by a mere half-hour.
Speaker played in 7 games for the Red Sox in 1907 getting 3 hits in 19 at bats for a .158 average. The following year, the Red Sox traded Speaker to the Little Rock Travelers of the Southern League in exchange for use of their facilities for spring training in 1908. Speaker ended up batting .350 for the Travelers and his contract was repurchased by the Red Sox. Speaker ended up making it into 31 games and got 26 hits in 116 at bats for a .224 average.
The Early Years
Speaker finally became a won the regular starting center fielders job in 1909 from the light hitting Denny Sullivan who ended up getting sold to the Cleveland Naps. The gamble paid off for the Red Sox when Speaker hit .309 in 143 game and the team finished third in the pennant race.
In 1910 the Red Sox signed Duffy Lewis (LF). Along with speaker and Harry Hooper (RF) they would form Boston’s “Millioin-Dollar Outfield”, one of the finest outfield trios in baseball history. The outfield was broken up when Speaker was traded to the Cleveland Indians in 1916.
Speaker’s best season came in 1912. The Red Sox opened the newly built Fenway Park on April 20, 1912. Speaker played in every one of the Red Sox' 153 games, leading the American League in doubles with 53, and home runs with 10. He set a career high with 222 hits, 136 runs, 580 at-bats, and 52 steals. He was at the top of his game. He batted .383, a mark he would surpass three times in his career, but his .567 slugging percentage was the highest of his dead ball days. Speaker set a major league record when he had three batting streaks of 20 (30, 23, 22) or more games during the season. In center field he helped the Red Sox pitching staff by stabbing line drives and throwing out greedy base runners. The Red Sox won the pennant by finished 14 games ahead of the Washington Senators and 15 games ahead of the Philadelphia A’s.
Snodgrass $30,000 Muff Costs Giants Victory
Speaker’s Red Sox faced off against John McGraw’s New York Giants in the 1912 World Series. The series was tied 3-3-1 going into game 8 on October 16, 1912. The game was tied going into the tenth inning. In the top of the tenth, Fred Merkle shook off some of the shame still on his shoulders from his supposed bonehead play in 1908. With Red Murray on second, he cracked a single to center. Speaker juggled the ball, allowing Murray to score. After the Giants were out, future Hall of Famer, Christy Mathewson strode to the mound to try and win the Giants' second World Series. Pinch hitter Clyde Engle led off the inning. He hit a routine fly ball out towards centerfield. Fred Snodgrass, a native of Ventura, California and the Giants dependable centerfielder of the last five years, trotted to the spot where he figured to catch the ball for the first out. But he didn't.
Perhaps as the NY Times article suggests, Snodgrass hurried the play. He later said, "I dropped the darn thing." With Engle on second, the recipient of one of the largest gifts New York has given to Boston, up came Harry Hooper. Mathewson was tiring and whatever pitch he came in with, Hooper ripped it out towards centerfield. The ball appeared to be headed over Snodgrass' head. If not caught, it would probably be a triple. But Snodgrass chased the ball down for the first out. Engle advanced to third.
Out of steam, Mathewson walked second baseman Steve Yerkes . The modern day fan would surely criticize McGraw for leaving his ace in, but that was the way things were back then in the dead ball era. You went with a guy like Mathewson. Speaker was up next. If ever there was a batter who deserved to be called dangerous, it was Speaker. Perhaps sensing Mathewson's weakening arm, he went after the first pitch. He popped it up though, a catchable ball between first and home in foul territory and close to the Red Sox dugout.
What happened next, or explaining why who did what, is difficult to completely ascertain. Some writers point the finger at Merkle, the Giants’ first baseman, who they believe should have made the play. Noel Hynd , author of The Giants of the Polo Grounds blames Mathewson for calling out to his catcher to make the play. In Merkle's defense, Giants’ catcher Chief Meyers said, "the Boston bench called for Matty to take it, and called for me to take it, and I think that confused Fred. He was afraid of a collision."
Harry Hooper, who was sitting on the Red Sox bench, said "Meyers didn't have a chance, but Matty kept calling for him to take it. If he'd called for Merkle, it would have been an easy out. Or Matty could have taken it himself. But he kept calling for Chief to take it, and poor Chief...lumbered down that line...and just missed it." In Mathewson's defense, Merkle, according to writer Hugh Fullerton who witnessed the play, "quit cold."
Regardless of whose fault it was, the Giants had given the Red Sox another out. Speaker knew it and taunted Mathewson. "Well, that's gonna cost you the ball game!" Speaker then backed up his claim by hitting the next pitch to centerfield. Engle scored the tying run and Yerkes went to third.
McGraw, knowing Mathweson was as capable as any pitcher of ushering up enough courage to get two more outs, stayed with his starter. Larry Gardner then hit a long fly ball to right field. Giants right fielder Josh Devore caught it, but his throw home was too far of a distance to catch Yerkes. The Red Sox claimed their second World Series. Speaker led his team with a .300 batting average, nine hits and four runs scored.
The New York press, needing to explain what happened in one headline, wrote: Snodgrass $30,000 muff costs Giants victory. Giants owner John T. Brush , needing to get away, hopped on a train for California. In ill-health, he never made it. After a stop in St. Louis, the Giants third owner passed away.
Speaker batted .338 in 1914 and .322 in 1915. The Red Sox beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, led by 18 game winner and team home run leader with 4, Babe Ruth, in his first full season.
Traded to the Indians
After the World Series victory, Speaker had a falling out with Red Sox president Joe Lannin , who wanted Speaker to take a pay cut from about $15,000 to about $9,000 since his average had fallen to a mere .322. Speaker refused and would not sign such a contract. On April 12, 1916 Lannin dealt Speaker to the Cleveland Indians for Sam Jones, Fred Thomas and $50,000.
The angry Speaker held out for $10,000 of that cash that Boston had received and eventually, with the aid of AL President Ban Johnson, got it. Speaker’s contract with Cleveland for $40,000 was the highest in baseball at the time. He averaged over .350 for ten of the next 11 years.
In 1916 Speaker finally ended Ty Cobb’s amazing run of nine consecutive AL batting titles by batting .386 to Cobb’s .371. Speaker’s return to Boston, May 9, 1916, was a unofficial tribute by the fans, over 15,000 showed up and roared with approval every time he came near the ball. Reacting without thinking at the end of one inning Speaker started towards the Boston dugout. The crowd went wild. His return is only spoiled because the Indians lose 5-1.
On September 1, 1917 in a game against the Tigers in Cleveland, Speaker was hit with the ball as he tried to steal home in the bottom of the first inning. Batter Joe Evans swung away and lined the ball of Speaker's face. Detroit manager Hughie Jennings, as a courtesy, allowed Speaker to sit out the second inning while his face was sewn up. Elmer Smith played center field until Tris returned in the third.
As a center fielder, Speaker played so shallowly for most hitters that he was like a fifth infielder, swift of foot, chasing down potential singles. Twice in 1918, he executed an unassisted double play at second base, snaring low line drives on the run and then beating base runners to the bag. At least once in his career he was credited as the pivot man in a routine double play! Bill Carrigan, a longtime teammate of Speaker's on the Red Sox, often times would send a pickoff throw from his catcher's position to Speaker who had snuck in on second base. In addition, as Indians' manager he insisted the team practice a play where he from center field would cover the keystone sack on bunt plays, thus freeing up his shortstop to cover third, and his third baseman to charge the bunts.
Speaker as Player/Manager
"according to (Cleveland writer) Franklin Lewis , manager Lee Fohl had come to rely heavily on... Speaker for counsel on changing pitchers during a game. If Speaker thought a change would be made he would signal to Fohl in the dugout and also indicate who the replacement would be. In one game in mid-season when things were not going so well, Speaker signaled for a certain pitcher to be brought in from the bullpen. But Fohl misread Speaker's signal and brought in Fritz Coumbe instead of the man Speaker had intended. At first Speaker tried to correct the mistake, but then realized it would look like he was reversing the manager, so he let it pass. It so happened that Coumbe lost the game and that night Fohl resigned as manager and Speaker was named to replace him. Speaker felt badly about the incident because he felt he was the cause of Fohl's departure."
54 years later, Uhle remembered the incident, but couldn't say for sure if Speaker was making the changes because he was still quite new to the team at the time. However, he said it reminded him of another Coumbe story:
"I was sitting on the bench with Guy Morton one day when we were playing the Yankees. Coumbe was near by. Babe Ruth came up and got a hit. 'I know how to pitch to that big monkey,' Coumbe remarked. Well he was sent to the bullpen to warm up and later got into the game. 'Now we'll see,' said Morton, 'whether he can pitch to Ruth or not.' Well, Babe knocked the first pitch out of the park. Guy and I both got a big kick out of that and within a day or two, Coumbe was gone just like Fohl."
As it turns out, these two events happened in the same game. The Indians played the Red Sox on July 18, 1919. After Cleveland scored four times in the bottom of the 8th to take a 7-3 lead, Boston countered with a run and Coumbe came in to face Ruth with the bases loaded. The Babe unloaded them with his second homer of the game and the Sox won 8-7. The Sporting News reported that Coumbe cried like a baby and Fohl resigned after the game citing growing criticism from the fans. As the Indians had a history of managers quitting mid-season, TSN correspondent Henry P. Edwards stated that, although the resignation was unexpected, the only real surprise would have been if Speaker was not named manager.
In what many call the catch that won the pennant for the 1920 Indians, Speaker, his team playing a season-ending game with the Chicago White Sox, caught a screaming line drive hit to deep right-centerfield by Shoeless Joe Jackson. On the the dead run, Speaker leaped with both feet off the ground and snared the ball before crashing into a concrete wall. Laying unconscious from the impact, he still had a viselike grip on the ball. In 1920 he guided the Indians to their first ever World Series Championship.
Speaker singled off Senator pitcher Tom Zachary on May 17, 1925, to become the fifth member of the 3000 hit club and the second man to reach the historic mark while wearing a Cleveland uniform (Napoleon Lajoie was the first). Two years later, Tom Zachary's name would once again enter the annals of baseball, this time as the pitcher who gave up Babe Ruth's 60th home run of 1927.
He managed for 1137 games finishing 617-520 before “retiring” as a manager, but not as a player. This “retirement” was forced by AL President, Ban Johnson after a scandal involving gambling broke in 1926 in which Dutch Leonard claimed that Speaker and Ty Cobb fixed at least on Cleveland-Detroit game. Both Speaker and Cobb forced to “resign” as managers.
It seemed that Leonard was bitter about being let go from organized baseball in what he felt was a conspiracy by Speaker and Cobb. He used the game-fixing charges as a way to retaliate against the two men so that they would know what it would be like to be run out of the league. His plan failed as he was unable to convince either Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis or the public that the two had done anything for which they deserved to be kicked out of baseball.
When Leonard refuses to appear at the January 5, 1927 hearings to discuss his accusations, Landis clears both Speaker and Cobb of any wrong doing and reinstates with original teams, but each team let them know that they were free agents and could sign with whomever they wished. Speaker signed with the Washington Senators for 1927, Cobb with the Philadelphia Athletics. Speaker then joined Cobb in Philadelphia for the 1928 season where he only came to the plate 191 times and finished with a .267 average.
Post Professional Career
In 1929 Speaker replaced Walter Johnson as the manager of the Newark Bears of the International League, a post he held for two years. He became a part owner of the American Association. The announcement of Speaker’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame was made in January, 1937. At the time he was in the wholesale liquor business in Cleveland and was chairman of the city’s Boxing Commission.
Speaker helped found the Cleveland Society for Crippled Children and Camp Cheerful . From 1947 to his death, Speaker was an advisor, coach, and scout for the Indians. He married Mary Frances Cudahy in 1925.
Cobb considered Speaker to be the best player he ever played against.
Records and Achievements
- Most career doubles (793)
- Fifth highest lifetime major-league batting average (.345)
- Fifth in career hits
- Sixth in career triples
- Eighth in career runs
- Led American League in batting 1 time
- Led American League in slugging percentage 1 time
- Led American League in on base percentage 4 times
- Led American League in hits 1 time
- Led American League in total bases 1 time
- Led American League in doubles 8 times
- Led American League in home runs 1 time
- Led American League outfielders in putouts 7 times
- Led American League outfielders in double plays 6 times
- Led American League outfielders in assists 3 times
- Led American League outfielders in fielding average 2 times
- Batted over .380 five times
- Stuck out only 220 times in 10,195 at-bats
- ”Tris Speaker Obituary”. (December 9, 1958) New York Times
- ”Snodgrass $30,000 Muff Costs Giants Victory”. (October 17, 1912) New York Times
- Eugene Murdock , Baseball Players and Their Times. New York: Mecklermedia , 1991
- IMDB Tris Speaker’s IMDB page
- The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History] Tris Speaker’s page
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