The Virtual 1916-1925 Boston Red Sox (Part 3:  1923-1925)

Previously, we’ve explored an alternate reality for the Boston Red Sox from 1916 through 1919, and then 1920 through 1922. This time we’ll complete the journey by taking them up to the middle of the 1920s.

Namee:

The winter of 1922-23 was a busy one for the real-life Red Sox:

First, at the end of October, they traded second baseman Del Pratt and pitcher Rip Collins to the Tigers in exchange for solid starter Howard Ehmke, $25,000 cash and three other players (including a young Babe Herman). In our version of history, the Sox never traded for Pratt or Collins, so we can’t make this deal.

Then, a few days into 1923, the Red Sox sent two youngsters, pitcher George Pipgras and outfielder-infielder Harvey Hendrick, to the Yankees for backup catcher Al DeVormer and (of course) cash. This was a terrible trade that we won’t be making. On Jan. 30, they made another bad deal with the Yankees, trading pitcher Herb Pennock to New York for a package of mediocrities (most notably weak-hitting infielder Norm McMillan) and, more importantly, $50,000. We’ll nix this trade and keep Pennock.

Finally, on Feb. 10, Boston sent catcher Muddy Ruel and pitcher Allen Russell to the Senators for infielder-outfielder Howie Shanks, catcher Val Picinich and young outfielder Ed Goebel. But our Red Sox never acquired Ruel and Russell in the first place, so they can’t make this trade.

The big short-term result of all these moves is that the Red Sox keep Herb Pennock, who would break through as a star in 1923. But gaining Pennock is partly counterbalanced by not getting Ehmke, who was pretty good in ’23.

The new 1923 Red Sox team is full of holes. Babe Ruth and Tris Speaker are both in peak form, but catcher Wally Schang, suffering from a groin injury, has the worst season of his career up to this point, and right fielder Harry Hooper continues his slow but steady decline.

More problematic is the club’s infield situation, where veterans Larry Gardner and Eddie Foster both ran out of gas in ‘23. Most of the real-life team’s second base and third base playing time went to journeymen Chick Fewster, Howie Shanks and Norm McMillan, but our undone deals mean that none of those guys are on the roster.

What to do? Well, on April 20, the Red Sox purchased Ira Flagstead from the Tigers, and we’ll definitely let that deal go through. Flagstead played right field in ’23, but he was capable of playing the infield (with 55 games at shortstop in 1921), so we’ll put him at second base. Likewise, Harvey Hendrick could do the job at third, where he would spend 118 career games.

That still leaves a lot of playing time for decidedly subpar infielders, and removing Flagstead from the outfield means more at-bats for the motley crew of Dick Reichle and Mike Menosky. Yuck. Still, Ruth and Speaker are so good that this top-heavy offense scores nearly five runs per game, a bit better than the league average of 4.78.

On the pitching side, the quartet of Pennock, Waite Hoyt, Joe Bush and Alex Ferguson would be among the better rotations in the league. Carl Mays had a bad year, but … well, I should probably explain this one.

In real life, Mays was with the Yankees, and, for various reasons, normally-taciturn manager Miller Huggins hated his guts. Although Mays was perfectly healthy, he was allowed to start just seven games for the Yankees in ’23, and was on the bench during the World Series. In 81 innings, Mays had a 6.20 ERA (13 of his 59 runs allowed that year came in one ugly start, on July 17, when Huggins left Mays in the game to take an awful beating). After the season, the Yankees placed him on waivers and then exiled him to the National League (in a time when interleague trades required waivers and were therefore rare).

We can’t assume that Mays would have been at the top if his game in Boston, but absent Huggins’ poor handling, I think it’s safe to say that Mays would have had merely an off year, rather than a disastrous one.

1923

 Pos Player         B  Age     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 1B  B. Ruth        L   28   152  522  138  203   47   14   39  138  170   93 .389 .539 .757  239
 2B  I. Flagstead   R   29   112  417   69  127   25    4    9   61   41   26 .305 .366 .448  114
 SS  E. Scott       R   30   152  533   47  130   16    4    5   58   13   19 .244 .255 .317   50
 3B  H. Hendrick    L   25    87  232   33   63    8    2    5   38   10   22 .272 .299 .388   80
 RF  H. Hooper      L   35   145  576  103  167   32    4   10   56   68   22 .290 .364 .411  104
 CF  T. Speaker     L   35   150  574  133  218   59   11   17  112   93   15 .380 .455 .610  178
 LF  D. Reichle     L   26   103  307   42   77   14    3    1   31   19   27 .251 .302 .326   65
  C  W. Schang      B   33    84  272   38   74    8    2    2   33   27   17 .272 .349 .338   81

  C  E. Ainsmith    R   33    74  243   20   51    9    5    3   30   20   17 .210 .264 .325   54
 OF  M. Menosky     L   28    97  228   25   52   10    5    0   25   28   21 .228 .303 .316   63
 32  P. Pittenger   R   24    72  210   18   48    7    0    0   16    6   10 .229 .244 .262   33
 3B  L. Gardner     L   37    62  165   12   42   11    2    0   25   25   15 .255 .344 .345   82
 2B  E. Foster      R   36    40  134   12   27    3    0    0    5    8    8 .201 .238 .224   22
 2S  M. McNally     R   29    50  108    9   24    2    0    0    1    9    7 .222 .264 .241   26

     Others                       122   14   29    6    2    1   10   10   11 .238 .289 .344   66

     Pitchers                     562   53  118   14    6    3   50   40  107 .210 .252 .272   38

     TOTAL                       5205  766 1450  271   64   95  689  587  437 .279 .347 .410  106


     Pitcher        T  Age     G   GS   CG   IP    W    L   SV    H   HR   BB   SO   ERA ERA+
     J. Bush        R   30    37   30   22  276   19   15    1  263    7  117  125  3.43  120
     W. Hoyt        R   23    37   28   19  239   17   10    1  227    9   66   60  3.02  136
     H. Pennock     L   29    35   27   21  238   18    8    3  235   11   68   93  3.13  131
     C. Mays        R   31    31   25   13  207    9   13    1  224   17   64   42  4.57   90
     A. Ferguson    R   26    34   27   11  198   14   10    1  229    5   67   72  4.04  102

     C. Fullerton   R   24    37   14    6  143    7    9    3  167    9   71   37  5.09   81
     G. Pipgras     R   23    15    1    1   36    0    2    0   38    2   25   12  6.00   68
     L. Howe        R   27    12    2    0   30    1    0    0   23    0    7    7  2.40  171

     Others                         0    0    5    0    0    0   14    0    5    1 18.00   23

     TOTAL                        154   93 1372   85   67   10 1420   60  490  449  3.84  107

These Red Sox have a Pythagorean record of 85-67. The real life team “deserved” to go 54-98, but they managed a 61-91 record, beating their Pythagorean projection by seven games. Seven games is a lot; it would make our Red Sox 92-60. But even without the luck, they’d finish ahead of the Tigers (83-71).

The big question is, would the Yankees still have won the pennant (and their first World Series)? In real life, they went 98-54, a whopping 16 games ahead of the second-place Tigers. But we’ve got them losing Babe Ruth, plus their three best pitchers (Hoyt, Pennock and Bush), plus their shortstop (Everett Scott) and their half-time catcher (Schang). Even with a 16-game cushion, could any team survive such a gutting?

Let’s see… Ruth had 37 Win Shares Above Average; that’s a dozen games all by himself. Hoyt, Pennock and Bush had a combined 24 WSAA. In other words, replace those four with league-average players, and the Yankees have a deficit of 20 games.

With luck—and some good player acquisitions—the Yankees might have been able to pull off a first-place finish. More likely, the Red Sox, holes and all, would have won yet another pennant, their sixth flag in nine seasons.

Treder:

Between the 1923 and ’24 seasons, the actual Red Sox made two major transactions. The first was a seven-player trade with Cleveland in which the major talent surrendered by Boston was first baseman George Burns; since we don’t have Burns (or the two other guys the Red Sox gave up), that’s a deal we won’t make.

The second was a straight purchase of the veteran star outfielder Bobby Veach from Detroit. Veach was 35 at this point, in his decline phase and no longer playing every day for the Tigers (the young Heinie Manush had pushed him aside), but his bat was still effective. Since our 1923 Red Sox had a gaping hole in left field, it’s entirely plausible that they would have made this deal. Probably the Tigers would ask for a greater sum of cash from these pennant-winning Red Sox than they did from the actual cellar-dwellers, but we’ll let this one go through.

Along with Veach, we’ll see another significant newcomer to the 1924 team, one who was actually there: outfielder Ike Boone, a retread Boston rescued from the minors. Boone wasn’t much of a fielder or baserunner, but he could hit, and it would make sense for our Red Sox to bring him on to compete with Veach for the left field opening.

1924

 Pos Player         B  Age     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 1B  B. Ruth        L   29   153  529  138  204   41    8   43  137  144   83 .386 .515 .737  220
 2B  I. Flagstead   R   30   149  560  113  172   35    7    5   49   77   41 .307 .393 .421  110
 SS  E. Scott       R   31   153  548   56  138   12    6    4   66   21   15 .252 .271 .318   51
 3B  H. Hendrick    L   26   122  367   50  110   16    5    6   57   26   31 .300 .345 .420   96
 RF  H. Hooper      L   36   130  476  111  159   28    8    9   64   66   25 .334 .409 .483  129
 CF  T. Speaker     L   36   135  486  107  169   37    9    8   87   73   13 .348 .427 .510  141
 LF  I. Boone       L   27   128  487   79  164   31    4   13  117   54   32 .337 .402 .497  131
  C  W. Schang      B   34   114  356   46  105   19    7    5   55   49   44 .295 .374 .430  107

 32  D. Lee         L   24    85  259   33   66    8    4    0   28   36   15 .255 .338 .317   72
 OF  B. Veach       L   36    95  260   43   77   18    5    3   55   24    9 .296 .346 .438  101
  C  J. Heving      R   28    56  145   20   41    7    1    0   17   13    9 .283 .333 .345   79
 2S  M. McNally     R   30    65  123   19   30    1    0    0    7   12   10 .244 .296 .252   46
 32  C. Geygan      R   21    44   82    7   21    5    2    0    5    4   16 .256 .293 .366   73
 3B  L. Gardner     L   38    38   50    3   10    0    0    0    5    5    1 .200 .273 .200   23

     Others                       112   16   30    5    0    0   11   13    9 .268 .338 .313   68

     Pitchers                     504   47  111   20    6    4   45   30   79 .220 .252 .308   44

     TOTAL                       5344  888 1607  283   72  100  805  647  432 .301 .371 .437  114


     Pitcher        T  Age     G   GS   CG   IP    W    L   SV    H   HR   BB   SO   ERA ERA+
     H. Pennock     L   30    40   33   24  272   20    7    3  283   12   61   97  2.78  157
     J. Bush        R   31    39   30   18  239   16   13    1  246    9  104   77  3.54  123
     W. Hoyt        R   24    46   31   13  235   17   10    4  277    8   72   68  3.75  116
     C. Mays        R   32    37   22   12  203   19    7    0  217    3   37   57  3.41  127
     A. Ferguson    R   27    35   15    7  159   10    9    1  173    4   72   52  3.79  115
     D. Leonard     L   32    11    6    3   51    3    2    1   68    1   18   26  4.56   95

     C. Fullerton   R   25    25   10    5  101    6    6    1  111    1   49   22  4.37  100
     B. Ross        L   21    20    1    0   47    2    1    1   55    2   15    8  3.45  126
     O. Fuhr        L   30    12    4    1   27    1    1    0   33    0   13   10  6.00   73
     G. Pipgras     R   24     9    1    0   15    0    1    1   20    0   18    4 10.00   44

     Others                         4    1   44    1    2    0   58    2   26   15  7.16   61

     TOTAL                   157  157   84 1394   95   59   13 1541   42  485  436  3.77  116

Now, our Red Sox machine is firing on all cylinders again! Speaker slows down a bit, but is still great, and Ruth remains phenomenal. And overall the offense plugs its many holes of 1923: both Hooper and Schang rebound for one final outstanding season, Boone earns the starting role in left with lusty hitting, Flagstead is excellent, and Hendrick provides solid work. It adds up to the most potent attack in the league.

Combine that with the ever-brilliant pitching staff, and this Boston team wouldn’t squeak by with an excuse-me pennant as in ’23, but would grab it authoritatively, beating out a strong Washington team, denying the Senators their first-ever flag. This would make it seven championships for the Red Sox in 10 seasons.

Namee:

The 1924-25 offseason was relatively quiet for the real-life Red Sox; all they really did was re-acquire utility infielder Mike McNally and flip him to Washington for infielder Doc Prothro. Our Red Sox never would have given up McNally in the first place, but I’ve got no problem with trading him for Prothro.

In April, Boston sent first baseman Joe Harris to the Senators for a couple of players, including useful outfielder Roy Carlyle. Our version never had Harris to begin with, so they can’t make this deal. Then in May, the real Red Sox traded Bobby Veach and Alex Ferguson to the Yankees for pitcher Ray Francis and $9,000. Neither Veach nor Ferguson had a lot left in the tank, but Francis was utterly useless. We’ll void this one.

The year 1925 was a low point in Babe Ruth’s career. He became ill during spring training; the press dubbed the ailment “The Bellyache Heard ‘Round the World,” and Ruth missed over a third of the season. When he did play, he was a shadow of his normal self, hitting under .300 for the only time between 1917 and 1933.

As if that wasn’t enough for our ball club, Schang at age 35 has the worst season of his career, and the 37-year-old Hooper finally reaches the end of the line. On the pitching side, the normally-reliable Bush sees his ERA balloon to nearly five, and Mays appears in just a dozen games.

1925

Pos Player          B  Age     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 1B  B. Ruth        L   30    98  359   71  106   14    3   24   66   59   68 .295 .392 .552  137
 2B  I. Flagstead   R   31   148  572   92  160   38    2    6   61   63   30 .280 .349 .385   86
 SS  D. Prothro     R   31   119  415   56  130   23    3    0   51   52   21 .313 .386 .383   95
 3B  H. Hendrick    L   27   120  375   58  107   23    6    7   54   25   28 .285 .328 .435   92
 RF  H. Hooper      L   37   127  442   74  119   25    5    6   52   54   21 .269 .344 .389   86
 CF  T. Speaker     L   37   117  429   90  166   36    6   11   82   70   12 .387 .477 .576  162
 LF  I. Boone       L   28   133  476   71  157   34    5    9   89   60   19 .330 .400 .479  122
  C  W. Schang      B   35    73  167   25   41    8    1    2   24   17    9 .246 .304 .341   63

 OF  T. Vache       R   36   110  252   45   79   15    7    3   48   21   33 .313 .378 .464  114
 1B  P. Todt        L   23    67  219   31   62   12    5    4   32   15   12 .283 .336 .438   95
  C  J. Heving      R   29    57  142   19   26    9    0    0    8   14    8 .183 .253 .246   27
 SS  E. Scott       R   32    60  137   15   34    5    1    0   17    5    5 .248 .267 .299   43
  C  J. Bischoff    R   30    41  133   17   37    9    1    1   16    6   11 .278 .303 .383   75
 SS  D. Lee         L   25    69  131   17   29    3    2    0   11   18   11 .221 .309 .275   49
 OF  B. Veach       L   37    58  110   17   34   10    1    0   18   10    3 .309 .360 .418   97
 S3  B. Connolly    R   24    53  107   17   28    7    1    0   19   23    9 .262 .386 .346   88
 S2  B. Rogell      B   20    42   94    8   18    3    1    0    9    6    9 .191 .231 .245   21
  C  A. Stokes      R   25    25   69   10   15    1    1    0    3    5   10 .217 .270 .261   35
 OF  D. Williams    L   28    26   67    9   15    1    1    0   13    5    4 .224 .270 .269   37

     Others                        33    3   10    1    1    0    3    2    3 .303 .343 .394   86

     Pitchers                     502   45  117   23    8    3   55   17   50 .233 .245 .329   45

     TOTAL                       5231  790 1490  300   61   76  731  547  376 .285 .348 .409   96


     Pitcher        T  Age     G   GS   CG   IP    W    L   SV    H   HR   BB   SO   ERA ERA+
     H. Pennock     L   31    42   31   21  271   18   11    2  268   11   70   86  3.12  145
     T. Wingfield   R   25    38   26   18  248   16   15    2  261   11   90   29  3.96  114
     W. Hoyt        R   25    38   30   17  235   13   11    3  277   14   75   84  4.25  106
     J. Bush        R   32    33   28   15  209   13   14    0  227   16   91   63  4.96   91
     D. Leonard     L   33    18   18    9  126    9    7    0  146    8   43   65  4.73   96

     A. Ferguson    R   28    33    8    2   85    3    4    1   99    8   45   35  5.40   84
     R. Ruffing     R   20    28    4    1   78    4    3    2   86    4   25   23  4.73   96
     C. Mays        R   33    12    5    3   52    5    3    2   66    1   13   10  3.66  124
     C. Fullerton   R   26     7    1    0   23    0    2    0   22    1    9    3  3.17  143

     Others                    4    1    0   13    0    1    0   17    1    6    2  6.23   73

     TOTAL                        152   86 1339   81   71   12 1469   75  467  400  4.20  108

The result is a record of 81-71, well behind Washington and Philadelphia but likely a hair ahead of St. Louis (who’d be slightly less competitive without Bush) and Detroit (ditto without pitcher Dutch Leonard). Depending on luck, these Red Sox may have finished out of the first division for the first time since 1908.

So …

Ruth, Hoyt and Pennock would have many more good seasons after 1925. But a lot of this dynasty’s stars were in the twilights of their careers. Speaker and Schang would age gracefully, but their durability and effectiveness were still in decline. Mays had only one good year left after ’25; Bush had zero. And 1925 was Hooper’s final season. It seems we’ve taken this particular ride to the end of the line.

Before moving on, let’s look back at the past decade, at the dynasty that could have been:

 Year   Actual W-L  Virtual W-L  Actual Pos  Virtual Pos  Actual Champ   Virtual Champ
 1916     91-63        96-58         1           1           Boston         Boston
 1917     90-62        96-56         2           2           Chicago        Chicago
 1918     75-51        81-45         1           1           Boston         Boston
 1919     66-71        77-60         6           4           Chicago        Chicago
 1920     72-81        99-54         5           1          Cleveland       Boston
 1921     75-79       102-52         5           1          New York        Boston
 1922     61-93        90-64         8           2          New York       St. Louis
 1923     61-91        85-67         8           1          New York        Boston
 1924     67-87        95-59         7           1         Washington       Boston
 1925     47-105       81-71         8           3         Washington     Washington

Throw in their championships of 1912 and ’15, and these Red Sox win eight pennants in 14 years. For some perspective, consider that Babe Ruth’s storied Yankees (1920-1934) won seven pennants in 15 seasons.

And speaking of Ruth’s Yankees: what about the Ruth-less Yankees? We know that they’d lose their pennants in 1921-23. And without their many ex-Red Sox, there’s no way they would have won in 1926; the Indians (minus Speaker) or the A’s would have been AL champs instead.

Ruth, Hoyt and Pennock were among the biggest stars on the ’27 Yankees, and without them, the team wouldn’t have won anything close to 110 games. But the Yankees still would have had Lou Gehrig at first base, Tony Lazzeri at second, Earle Combs and Bob Meusel in the outfield and Urban Shocker and Wilcy Moore on the pitching staff, all of whom had outstanding years. The first pennant for the New York AL franchise, then, would have been in 1927, though with a ball club far less legendary than the actual “Murderer’s Row”.

The Yankees would not have repeated in 1928; the 98-win Athletics would take that championship. It’s certainly possible that New York would have found passable replacements for all their former Boston players in the 1920s, but the ex-Red Sox were so good, and so numerous, that I just can’t see the Yankees making up enough of the difference in any year save 1927.

The next title for the real-life Yankees was in 1932, when they finished 13 games ahead if the A’s. Even without Ruth, I think that team still wins it. At which point, presumably, history resumes its normal course.

Treder:

Or does it?

Obviously when conducting a counterfactual exercise such as this, the presumption is that everything else goes along just as it did (or nearly as it did). But, just as obviously, the fundamental premise of a counterfactual exercise is the acknowledgement that history didn’t have to take the course it did, that changing one thing here can have tremendous repercussions there and there and there.

So, let’s consider the Yankees of 1932 and beyond. Even as Ruth aged and departed, general manager Ed Barrow was able to rebuild the franchise to even more dynastic greatness by constructing one of the mightiest farm systems in the game. But hang on a second: Barrow himself was yet another of New York’s many Bostonian imports (and alongside Ruth, the most significant). Who’s to say that in our scenario Barrow, to whom only Branch Rickey is comparable as the greatest baseball executive of the first half of the 20th century (if not of all time), decides to go to work for the Yankees at all?

Moreover, with or without Barrow, the Yankees were able to fund the development of their farm system with the tremendous revenue they generated from Ruth and their many championship ball clubs. Who’s to say that in our scenario they’d be able to construct the monumental system as they did, and employ the brilliant George Weiss to direct it? Perhaps without the impact of Ruth and the many other ex-Red Sox catapulting the Yankee dynasty to the head start it enjoyed in the 1920s, it never would have formed at all.

Which would make the American League of the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s and early ’60s a distinctly more varied environment than it was, with several franchises (the Yankees no doubt among them, but also Cleveland, Detroit, and, yes, Boston) hotly competing for dominance over the decades.

Clearly this is in the realm of the purest speculation. But it isn’t the least bit implausible to imagine that had the river of talent not flowed as it did from Boston to New York in the late 1910s and early 1920s, the course of baseball history might have progressed instead in any number of dramatically different directions.

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