1909 Washington Nationals
Manager: Joe Cantillon 3rd Season (3rd with Washington 158-297-10)
42 W 110 L 4 T 380 RS 656 RA 8th AL 56.0 GB (Detroit 98-54-6)
2.44 RPG (AL = 3.44) 3.04 ERA (AL = 2.47)
.685 DER (6th AL)
Franchise (1901-1909) 480-833-30
A Giant Step Backwards
Joe Cantillon, now the longest tenured manager in team history, seemed to have the Nats headed in the right direction. After a typically bad finish in 1907, the team showed improvement in 1908, putting up the best won-loss record in team history. 1909 represented a major setback in Cantillon’s plans, so much so that he was out of a job following the season.
The offense was about as bad as it gets. The 1909 Nats scored only 2.44 runs per game, a full run below the league average. As a team, Washington’s OBP was a horrible .270, and SLG wasn’t much better at .275, both bottom in the league. The opposition was able to shutout the punchless lineup 30 times over the course of the season.
1908 may have been a much improved year for the pitching staff in Washington, but 1909 saw the team rocket back to the bottom of the league in most pitching categories. They allowed 4.2 RPG, almost a full run above the league average. Team ERA broke the three run barrier (3.04), while the league ERA remained at 2.47.
It all added up to a 110 loss season, the second worst season in franchise history. Only the 1904 team lost more games (113).
1909 uniforms from baseballhalloffame.org
On July 16, 1909 the Nats and Tigers played 18 innings of scoreless baseball before the game was called due to darkness. Detroit starter Ed Summers went the distance, allowing Nationals hitters only seven hits scattered throughout the 18 innings. Two Washington pitchers split the game; Dolly Gray and Bob Groom. Detroit only managed six hits against the two pitchers. Both teams threatened to score several times in the game, but neither was able to push the run across. The Washington Post reported that there was enough light to complete another inning or two, but blamed the umpire for stopping the game due to his own fatigue.
Interestingly, heading into the game, Detroit was in first place with a record of 50-28-2, while Washington already had settled into last in the AL, with a 23-52-2 record.
From June 19-September 25, rookie pitcher Bob Groom lost 19 games in a row. He finished the season with 26 losses, just one more than Walter Johnson, who lost 25 despite a better than average 2.22 ERA. Dolly Gray lost 19 times, and had the distinction of walking seven men in a row to lose a game in which he allowed only one hit.
Dolly Gray once walked seven men in a row
1909 World Series
The 1909 Series was billed as a matchup of two of the games biggest stars. Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers played against Honus Wagner and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The series went seven games, with Pittsburgh pulling it out in the final game. Wagner outplayed Cobb as well, hitting .333/.467/.500 to Cobb’s .231/.310/.346.
Bold = player new to Washington in 1909
C Gabby Street .211/.262/.246 0 HR -0.3 BFW 6 WS
His 1909 offensive numbers were about in line with his career averages. Though he had two more seasons left in Washington, he won’t come close to matching the 137 games he played in ’09.
1B Jiggs Donahue .237/.294/.286 0 HR -1.0 BFW 5 WS
Donahue was one of the three players Washington recieved from Chicago in exchange for Bill Burns in May 1909. He was one of three batters to hit better than .250 for the “hitless wonders” White Sox championship team in 1906. Not known for his offense, he was considered one of the top first basemen of his time. This would be the 19-year-old’s last season.
2B Jim Delahanty .222/.290/.308 1 HR -0.3 BFW 7 WS
Delahanty was traded to Detroit in August in exchange for Germany Schaefer and Red Killifer, who would both be regulars in 1910. The trade was a good deal for Delahanty, who led Detroit in World Series hitting with a .346/.414/.538 line. He played three more years in Detroit before finishing his career in the Federal League.
SS George McBride .234/.294/.266 0 HR 0.9 BFW 11 WS
Once again, McBride’s defense at shortstop was one of the few bright spots in an ugly season.
3B Wid Conroy .244/.298/.293 1 HR 0.1 BFW 12 WS
The veteran was purchased from the New York Highlanders in the offseason. He was the starting shortstop for Pittsburgh’s 1902 championship team (Honus Wagner played more in the outfield that year). The 32-year-old will finish his career in Washington.
LF George Browne .272/.308/.344 1 HR -0.5 BFW 10 WS
Another veteran acquisition for the Nats, Browne was claimed off of waivers from the Cubs. He was best known as the lead off hitter for several of John McGraw’s Giant teams in the early part of the century. At 33 years of age, his best years were behind him. He was purchased by the White Sox in the early part of the 1910 season.
CF Clyde Milan .200/.268/.257 1 HR -1.7 BFW 3 WS
Things weren’t looking so good for Milan in 1909. The Nats stuck with him, however, and would be rewarded in a few years. Despite the poor offensive contribution, Milan was already cementing his status as a very good fielder in center.
RF Bob Unglaub .265/.301/.350 3 HR 0.3 BFW 12 WS
Unglaub also split time at first. He was the only member of the 1909 Nats with more than one home run.
OF Jack Lelivelt .292/.334/.355 0 HR 0.9 BFW 11 WS
Described as a bulky and slow-footed outfielder, the rookie Lelivelt was still one of the better offensive performers for Washington.
P Walter Johnson 13-25 2.22 ERA 1.12 WHIP 0.1 PW 12 WS
Exhibit “A” as to how bad of a team this was, and a great example of how win-loss record is a meaningless stat when it comes to evaluating a pitcher. Johnson’s 2.22 ERA, while not as outstanding as he would see in future years, was better than average in a deadball American League. Despite the astronomical loss total, Johnson was second in AL strikeouts and third in innings pitched.
P Bob Groom 7-26 2.87 ERA 1.24 WHIP -2.0 PW 7 WS
In addition to the dismal rookie season documented above, Groom also led the league in walks. He has some solid seasons ahead of him.
P Dolly Gray 5-19 3.59 ERA 1.32 WHIP -3.2 PW 3 WS
Unlike fellow rookie Groom, Gray did not have solid years ahead of him. His nickname came from “Goodbye, Dolly Gray”, a popular Spanish-American war ballad.
P Charlie Smith 6-12 3.11 ERA 1.18 WHIP -1.4 PW 3 WS
Smith was traded to the Red Sox in September and actually had a winning season in 1910. He finished his career with the Cubs.
P Tom Hughes 4-7 2.69 ERA 1.21 WHIP -0.7 PW 4 WS
Hughes would return in 1911 after a stint in the American Association with Minneapolis. His record with the Millers in 1910 was 31-12.