1908 Washington Nationals
Manager: Joe Cantillon 2nd Season (2nd with Washington 116-187-6)
67 W 85 L 3 T 479 RS 539 RA 7th AL 22.5 GB (Detroit 90-63-1)
3.09 RPG (AL = 3.44) 2.34 ERA (AL = 2.39)
.696 DER (6th AL)
Franchise (1901-1908) 438-723-26
Pitching Becomes a Strength
Washington ERA – AL ERA; Difference
1901: 4.09 – 3.66; 0.43
1902: 4.36 – 3.57; 0.79
1903: 3.82 – 2.96; 0.86
1904: 3.62 – 2.60; 1.02
1905: 2.87 – 2.65; 0.22
1906: 3.25 – 2.69; 0.56
1907: 3.11 – 2.54; 0.57
1908: 2.34 – 2.39; -0.05
In each of its first seven years of existence, the Washington pitching staff has been well below average compared to the rest of the league. In 1908, thanks to a more experienced Walter Johnson, Tom Hughes, Charlie Smith; and newcomers like Bill Burns and Burt Keeley, the Nationals actually had a pitching staff that was right about average with the league.
Now if only the batters would come around. Once again the Nats found themselves near the bottom in RPG.
Walter Johnson in 1907; the second-year pitcher led the Nats’ best staff in team history in 1908
After a 5-2 win over Philadelphia on June 2, Washington found itself with an 18-21 record, only 3.5 games out of first place in the AL. They actually had a winning record in May (12-11), only the fourth winning month in franchise history, the first since August 1905.
On June 3 against the same team, the Nats began an 11-game losing streak that ended the slim hopes that the team may have had.
Over the course of 12 days, Washington was outscored 46-26 against Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, and Cleveland. The 11 losses came right in the middle of a 30-game road trip. Washington won only 8 games on the trip. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the longest road trip in club history. That came last year – a 31-game trip.
1908 Uniforms, from baseballhalloffame.org
The First Cycle
On October 2, 1908, Otis Clymer became the first member of the franchise to hit for the cycle in a game. He accomplished the feat in New York in the midst of a 12-2 Nationals’ win.
The Merkle Boner
1908 is probably most remembered for mistake made by a young Giant’s first baseman that may have cost his team the pennant. Dick Heller recounts the play for the Washington Post in 2005:
The New York Giants and Chicago Cubs were tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth with runners on first and third and two outs for the Giants. When Al Bridwell lined a pitch by Jack Pfiester into right-center for a single, Harry McCormick trotted home with the apparent winning run as bedlam ensued among the Polo Grounds multitude.
But wait: The runner on first, 19-year-old Fred Merkle, stopped between first and second when he saw McCormick cross the plate and headed for the clubhouse in center field.
Unfortunately for Merkle and the Giants, Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers — immortalized earlier that season in Franklin P. Adams’ “Tinker to Evers to Chance” poem — was smarter than most ballplayers. Calling for a ball, any ball, he stepped on second base and claimed a forceout that negated the Giants’ run.
Most fans left the old ballpark in Harlem thinking the Giants had won, thereby stretching their league lead over the Cubs to two games. Only when the next day’s papers hit the streets did they learn the umpires and National League president Harry Pulliam had upheld Evers’ claim. The game had ended 1-1 and would have to be replayed if the two teams ended the season tied for first place.
Which, of course, they did — and the Cubs easily beat Giants ace Christy Mathewson two weeks later to win their third straight pennant. After that, they disposed of Ty Cobb’s Detroit Tigers in five games to win their last World Series for at least 98 years.
Bold = player new to Washington in 1908
C Gabby Street .206/.289/.279 1 HR 1.5 BFW 11 WS
Street played in the National League in 1904 and 1905, mostly for the Reds. He spent 1906 and 1907 in San Francisco of the PCL. Nicknamed “Old Sarge”, Street would have more success as a manager, winning two pennants and a World Series with the Cardinals in the early 30’s.
1B Jerry Freeman .252/.304/.305 1 HR -1.4 BFW 11 WS
A California native, 1908 was Freeman’s only year as a regular.
2B Jim Delahanty .317/.376/.394 1 HR 2.4 BFW 16 WS
Though he played only 83 games, this was Delahanty’s best offensive season so far. He would see better numbers, but not with the Nats.
SS George McBride .232/.292/.274 0 HR 3.7 BFW 17 WS
His offensive numbers weren’t particularly high, but George McBride may have been the most valuable non-pitcher on this team. Prior to 1908, he bounced around, spending time in the National League in 1905, but, for the most part, he played in the minor leagues until Washington gave him a chance to play every day.
McBride with Pittsburgh in 1906
McBride came to Washington with quite a defensive reputation, but would be the premier shortstop in the American League for years to come.
3B Bill Shipke .208/.297/.276 0 HR -0.3 BFW 8 WS
His second and final season as an everyday third baseman.
LF Bob Ganley .239/.299/.311 1 HR 0.0 BFW 14 WS
Moved from right to left field in 1908. Ganley was claimed off of waivers by the Philadelphia A’s in the early part of the 1909 season.
CF Clyde Milan .239/.304/.315 1 HR 0.4 BFW 15 WS
The easy-going Milan became a regular in center for the first time in 1908. The 21-year-old would patrol the field better than just about anybody in the game for 15 years to come.
RF Ollie Pickering .225/.285/.282 2 HR -1.6 BFW 7 WS
Pickering came from St. Louis in exchange for Clyde Milan’s predecessor, Charlie Jones. The veteran began playing major league baseball in 1896. With two home runs, he was the official slugger on the team that hit only eight total.
P Tom Hughes 18-15 2.21 ERA 1.09 WHIP 1.0 PW 19 WS
18 was his highest win total since 1903 (with Boston), and overall 1908 was his best season with Washington.
P Walter Johnson 14-14 1.65 ERA 0.96 WHIP 2.1 PW 20 WS
Though the win total was low, Johnson was 20 years old and already turned in the best season a Washington pitcher has ever had. He finished 5th in AL ERA (1.65), 3rd in K/9 IP (5.62), 4th in H/9 IP (6.81), and 3rd in shutouts (6).
P Charlie Smith 9-13 2.40 ERA 1.24 WHIP -0.8 PW 8 WS
He had better days ahead of him, but not with Washington.
P Burt Keeley 6-11 2.97 ERA 1.30 WHIP -1.8 PW 3 WS
After pitching just two games for the Nats in 1909, Keeley never played major league ball again.
P Bill Burns 6-11 1.69 ERA 0.93 WHIP 0.8 PW 10 WS
As a 28 year old rookie, it must have appeared that Burns had promise. In may of 1909, Washington got three players from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Burns. As it turned out, his first season would be his best.