Wednesday, June 18, 2014
The amazing 1930 Philadelphia Phillies
By David Schoenfield
This was from two days ago but caught my attention because of the pitcher mentioned:
The sad thing is, I recognized Les Sweetland's name, not for playing for the Cubs, but because he was a member of the 1930 Philadelphia Phillies pitching staff, a staff so horrific that Tom Ruane once wrote an article for SABR Research Journal titled "Modern Baseball’s Greatest-Hitting Team: The 1930 Phillies’ Opponents."
The highest-scoring team since 1900 is the 1931 Yankees, who scored 1067 runs. The 1930 Phillies allowed 1199 -- an astonishing 7.69 runs per game. The Phillies averaged over six runs per game and still finished 52-102. If you don't know, 1930 was the famous rabbit-ball season. The National League hit a collective .303. The Phillies hit .315 as a team and set an all-time record for hits and didn't even have the highest average in the league; the Giants hit a record .319. Hack Wilson drove in 191 runs that year for the Cubs, Bill Terry was the last National Leaguer to hit .400 and nine players hit above .350.
But the Phillies staff was some kind of wonderful awfulness. Our guy Sweetland went 7-15 with a 7.71 ERA, allowing 164 runs in 167 innings and a .373 opponents' batting average. It's the highest ERA ever for a pitcher who qualified for the ERA title. Get this: He actually pitched a three-hit shutout on Opening Day. I guess the Phillies kept running him out there all season waiting for him to repeat that performance.
The Phillies played in Baker Bowl -- a bandbox of a park where right field was 280 feet from home plate and right-center a mere 300. Hall of Famer Chuck Klein reached Cooperstown largely because of his home park; he led the National League four times in home runs (although not in 1930, when he hit a mere .386 with 40 home runs and 170 RBIs) and hit .354 with 190 home runs at home in his career and .286 with 110 home runs on the road. While Baker Bowl obviously favored left-handed hitters like Klein, Sweetland actually threw left-handed (and, in fact, his ERA was lower at home than on the road in 1930).
Tom's article has an excellent detailed look at the Phillies' misery that year. The year actually began with some hopeful vibes:
They had won 71 games in 1929, their highest total since the original (Pete) Alexander deal, ending up in fifth place. Moreover, they finished strongly. From August 14 to the end of the season, they had gone 30–18, the best record in the league.
Spring training in 1930 was an unusually rainy one, but the team left Winter Haven, Florida, and headed north with a great deal of optimism—or, as James Isaminger of The Sporting News put it, "Shotton and his Phillies face the barrier with the feeling that scarcely any position in the percentage table is beyond their reach."
Seldom has an opening-day game given a more misleading indication of things to come than the Phillies’ 1–0 victory over the Brooklyn Robins on April 15. According to Isaminger, Les Sweetland’s three-hit shutout "belied the current Spring fiction that Burt Shotton has no dependable pitchers."
Needless to say, it soon went downhill. Which was nothing new for the Phillies back then: From 1918 to 1948 they had two winning seasons and lost 100-plus games 12 times.
As for Sweetland, despite his terrible season, the Cubs, who had finished in second place behind the Cardinals, purchased him for a price variously reported at $25,000 or $40,000. Sweetland was 5-0 with a 2.91 ERA at one point but would tail off and finish 8-7 with a 5.04 ERA and that would be the end of his major league career. This SABR bio says after spending some time in the minors, Mickey Cochrane eventually helped get him a job at Chrysler, where Sweetland worked for 25 years.