Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Time for South Dakota Great "Deacon" Philleppe to Gain Entrance to Cooperstown

Since I was a kid, I always dreamed of someday playing in the major leagues.

I always imagined what it would be like to step up to the plate, before 60,000 screaming and somewhat delirious fans and hit a game-winning home run.

Or, I see myself taking a walk around the mound, picking up the rosin bag, tossing it aside, clicking my cleats on the rubber, releasing a deep breath, and stepping onto the mound where I take the fastball signal, rear back and let it go, A moment later after a big whoosh, Casey is walking back to the bench with a big frown.

Dreams often allow us to steal away to a different world - one in which we live out our ultimate fantasy. For most of us, that is where those dreams stay -- la la land. However, every now and then we find someone that has seemingly lived their dream.

When I first read about the baseball exploits of Charles "Deacon" Philleppe, I wondered if the South Dakota baseball great had played out his dreams in the backyards of life when he was young.

I tried to imagine what he must have been experiencing when he made the big leagues at age 26. I would have loved to hear what he had to say after being the winning pitcher of the first World Series game ever played. Philleppe, who grew up in Athol, S.D., near Redfield, must have felt quite an adrenaline rush to defeat one of the best pitchers in baseball -- all-time wins leader Cy Young (511 wins, 316 losses, 2.63 era in 22 seasons).

Imagine if he knew that one day, there would be a Cy Young Award honoring the top pitcher in baseball. I can't help but wonder what he would think.

Philleppe, who is in the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame, hasn't made it to Cooperstown. It is a little bit hard to figure out why. He was one of the greatest control pitchers ever, allowing just 1.25 walks per nine innings (ranks ninth all-time).

A six-time 20-game winner, he won 189 games with 107 losses and a 2.59 earned run average during a 13-year career. He is the only player in baseball history to start five games in a single World Series and one of 13 pitchers to win three games in a single World Series. However, he is the only player to do it for a losing team.

According to Mark Armour of the Baseball Biography Project, Philleppe moved with his family to Athol in the Dakota Territory around 1875-76. He played semi-pro ball for several years in South Dakota but moved to Minnesota in 1896, where he played professionally for a team in Mankato after a tryout.

Following the 1898 season, Philleppe was drafted by Louisville. On May 25, 1899, he pitched a no-hitter against the Giants in just his seventh major league game. That season he was 21-17 in 321 innings for the Colonels. He was among the Louisville players that headed to Pittsburgh in 1900 after the National League contracted to eight teams.

Philleppe won 20 games in the first seasons in Pittsburgh with his 25-9 season in 1903 being his best. He had the career-year after two of the team's best pitchers left town. One of those pitchers was Major League Baseball Hall of Fame inductee  "Happy" Jack Chesbro, who had gone 28-6 for Pittsburgh in 1902, and won 21 games for the Yankees in 1903 before recording 41 wins against 12 defeats in 1904. The other pitcher, Jesse Tannehill, who left Pittsburgh in a dispute with owner Barney Dreyfus, finished his career with 197 wins and six 20-win campaigns. He led the National League in ERA in 1901.

During 1903, the Pirates fashioned six straight shutouts in midseason with Philleppe dealing blanks in the first and fifth games. However Philleppe's biggest performance was saved for the World Series. When 25-game winner Sam Leever was hurt and 16-game winner Ed Doheny had some mental issues, the pitching was left to Philleppe.

In game one in Boston, Philleppe struck out 10 hitters as Pittsburgh cruised to a 7-3 decision over a 36-year old Cy Young. He did not issue a walk and just three runs in six hits in nine innings. In game 3, Philleppe picked up another win, 4-2, also in Boston, as he had six strikeouts and walked just three hitters.  He won his third game in six days with a 5-4 victory over Boston in Pittsburgh. After that win, according to Armour, Pirate fans hoisted him on their shoulders and carried him around Exposition Park.

With the series knotted 3-3, Philleppe lost to Young, 7-3 and then three days later lost the final of the eight game series, 3-0, as Bill Dineen won his third game for Boston, managed by Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins. In total, four Hall of Famers played in that first series with Collins joined by Boston's (Americans) Cy Young and Pittsburgh with Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke. Interestingly Philleppe's mound opponent, Dineen, went onto a famed career as an umpire and is the only person to both pitch and umpire a no-hitter.

In the eight World Series games played over 13 days, Philleppe had five complete games, going 44 innings and allowing 38 hits, 19 runs while recording 22 strikeouts with just three walks.

Despite the loss, Pittsburgh fans appreciated Philleppe effort, according to Armour. They presented the South Dakota son with a diamond horse show stickpin while owner Barney Dreyfus gave him 10 shares of stock in the club.

While playing for Honus Wagner's Pittsburgh Five, a basketball team, he caught an illness that caused him to be hospitalized. As a result, he started just 19 games in 1904, going 10-10 with a 3.24 ERA. In 1905, he returned to form with a 20-win campaign and a 2.19 ERA.

However, the wear and tear on his arm was beginning to show. In 1906 at the age of 34, he developed chronic arm problems that would plague him for the remainder of his career. Over 1906-07, he started 50 games and relieved in 18 with a 29-21 record. In 1908, he pitched only 12 innings due to a sore shoulder and later a broken finger on his pitching hand when struck by a line drive by the Phillies' Red Dooin.

A year later, Philleppe was a spot-stater and reliever for the Pirates, compiling an 8-3 record and 2.32 ERA. He helped Pittsburgh defeat Detroit in seven games (4-3) for the World Series title. Philleppe pitched six scoreless innings against Detroit.

In 1910, he was a relief pitcher, compiling a 14-2 mark and 2.29 ERA. In that season, the lifetime .189 hitter made the record books when he hit an inside-the-park grand slam - not accomplished again until New York's Mel Stottlemyre in 1965. 

Philleppe, who gained the nickname "Deacon" for humility and way he lived his life, won his last 13 pitching decisions of his career. His last season in the big leagues was 1911. However he tried his hand as player-manager for the Pittsburgh team in the outlaw U.S. League, which held home games at Exposition Park. Pittsburgh left that stadium in 1909 for Forbes Field.  His team had the best mark in the league at 16-8. He also managed the Pittsburgh club in 1913, named the Filipinos in the Federal League.

After he left baseball, Philleppe, a distant relative of noted actor Ryan Philleppe, worked in a steel mill, operated a cigar store, served as a court bailiff ; and also held a position with the county parks department, all in the Pittsburgh area. He died while watching TV in March 30, 1952, 59 years ago at the age of 80.

I still am amazed what Philleppe accomplished. In an era defined by longevity, his right arm couldn't keep up the maddening pace that pitching at that time demanded. However, Philleppe did something no one else will ever be able to do - win the first ever series game. He deserves to be recognized by the Hall.

As I fall off into my own dream world, I wonder what Philleppe was thinking in those last days of his life and what dreams filled those times when he drifted away in thought. I wonder if his dream was playing baseball at a high level. And, if that wasn't his dream, what was?
                                                                                                                                                

No comments:

Post a Comment