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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Thursday, June 21, 2001
Who is Major League Baseball History’s Most Interesting Character?
Baseball history didn’t start in 1901.
You think Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Ichiro Suzuki are interesting characters? You thought Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb were intriguing? Not compared to John Montgomery Ward.
When interesting and intriguing characters of the game are discussed, Monte Ward is not usually among the first names that pop up. But the name should roll off the tongue. When the topic of influential men of the game is brought up, Monte Ward is not among the first names that pop up. But it should.
When many think of fascinating or interesting or intriguing baseball men, the names of Ruth, Cobb, Cap Anson, ?Shoeless? Joe Jackson, John McGraw, Moe Berg, Casey Stengel, Jackie Robinson, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis and the likes are named off. Not many think of Ward, who was as big a baseball figure and mind as he was a factor while playing.
To those who don’t have reservations about reading or learning of 19th century players, there is plenty to learn and perhaps a new baseball hero to talk about upon learning of Ward’s impact.
Start with the fact that Ward is the only player in major league history to have accumulated as many as 2,000 hits and have earned as many as 150 wins. (Ruth won 94 games.) Continue with the fact that he established the first players’ union in baseball history as well as a rival major league at one point, and you have the makings of a multifaceted man and a strong leader.
Ward ?is perhaps the most fascinating figure in baseball history?, said Mark Alvarez, editor for Society for American Baseball Research.
The ever-so competitive Ward had the playing style and hustle of a Pete Rose, the pitching ability of a Charles ?Old Hoss? Radbourn, the leadership presence of a Willie Stargell, the fight of a Billy Martin, the brains of a Cobb and Tom Seaver, and the power of a Landis and Donald Fehr. A player, manager, labor organizer and team owner, Ward was quite simply the most significant baseball man in the 19th Century, aside from the game?s inventor Alexander Cartwright.
Today?s fans don’t know of Ward, because he played his last major league game in 1894, or 107 years ago.
When not pitching, the five-foot-nine and 165-pounder was primarily a shortstop though he played third base, second base and the outfield as well. Overall, Ward played 826 games at short, 491 at second base, 291 as a pitcher, 215 in the outfield and 46 at third base.
In 1878 for Providence of the National League, the 18-year-old rookie out of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania used a great curve ball to dazzle batters with a league-best 1.51 ERA, the lowest of his career, as he won 22 of 35 decisions. The following year, Ward led Providence to the National League pennant as he won a career-high and league-leading 47 games, while posting a 2.15 ERA over 587 innings.
But 1880 was a special campaign for Ward, who went 39-24, with a sparkling 1.74 ERA and eight shutouts spanning a massive total of 595 innings. The season was especially notable since he threw baseball history’s second perfect game, five days after John Lee Richmond threw the first on June 12th. Ward?s gem was a 5-0 win over Buffalo and fellow Hall of Famer Pud Galvin.
The wear and tear began taking its toll on Ward, who had pitched 1,516 innings over his first three seasons and a whopping aggregate of 1,182 frames over the 1879 and 1880 campaigns. With a tired arm and sore shoulder, Ward?s workload would decrease every season there on.?
By no means was Ward unable to perform spectacularly as evidenced by his 18-inning shutout on August 17th of the 1882 season. He just couldn?t perform spectacularly as often.
After two more seasons at Providence with a collective record of 37-30 and a combined ERA well under 2.50, Ward moved to New York.
In his first year with the Giants in 1883, Ward went 16-13 with a 2.70 ERA over 277 innings. Unbeknown to him, that would be his last full season as a pitcher. With his arm dead-tired, his sling was dealt a final straw, suffering an injury while running the bases during a game early in 1884. Thus it ended a marvelous pitching career that featured a 164-102 record for a .617 winning percentage. In addition, Ward threw 24 shutouts, pitched 2,462 innings and compiled an ERA of 2.10, which still ranks as the fourth-best ever.
But his career was far from over. Wanting to remain a player, Ward decided to work hard to secure a position elsewhere on the field. Already handy with the glove (thanks to his previous experience at third base, outfield and shortstop) and very fast on the base paths, Ward was diligent in his endeavor to become a better hitter. Through 1883, Ward’s first seven seasons as a pitcher and part-time position player, his batting average was .248. That wasn?t good enough for Ward, who would eventually become an excellent bunter and situational hitter, not afraid to give himself up for the sake of the team.
With his pitching career over and his future so uncertain, Ward couldn?t just sit and play the healing game. Like Tris Speaker would do years later, Ward grew impatient and decided he couldn?t sit idly while his right arm recuperated; so he taught himself to throw left-handed in order to play center field for the remainder of the 1884 season. To boot, he also demonstrated his leadership skills by managing the last 16 games of the year - his second brief stint in five years.
As his right arm regained its strength, Ward took over as the Giants? full-time shortstop for the next five seasons. During those five campaigns, he served as the Giants? captain and established himself as the league’s best shortstop, averaging over 104 runs scored and almost 62 stolen bases (they began counting them in 1886) in the process.
In October of 1887, Ward married actress Helen Dauvray. Described as a ?handsome society lion? by Total Baseball, Ward was about to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
His desire became even more prominent when, in 1888, he taught himself to bat left-handed after a beaning made him realize that his batting style would be more conducive to a left-handed swing.
All his hard work, effort and leadership paid off as he marched his Giants to the N.L. pennant and ?world championship? in 1888 and 1889. And he proved to be the team?s true leader, simply taking over in the ?World Series?.
In the victory over the St. Louis Browns (champions of the American Association) during the 1888 World Series, Ward hit .379, with 11 hits, six RBI and six stolen bases in eight games. In the victory over Brooklyn the following October, Ward got on base very often for the big sluggers like Roger Connor, and would have most definitely received a series MVP honor if one had been in place. He hit a series-high .417 with 15 hits, five walks, 10 runs scored and a whopping 10 stolen bases. He also drove in seven runs to boot.
For his efforts, he was being considered ?the model ballplayer of the country? and ?the most dashing, daring and winning player the Giants ever had? by reporters of the day.
An article in the New York Journal stated, ?(Ward) was, too, the hero of more close games that were won - pulled out of the fire by individual excellence, grit and ginger - than any other Giant, old or new.?
One month after the Giants’ second straight World Series triumph? in 1889, Ward organized, established and announced the formation of the Players League.
Ward, who had founded the first-ever union for players and named it the Brotherhood of Professional Base-Ball Players four years earlier, had his hand forced when the owners secretly decided to lower all the players? salaries by classifying and ranking them while they were on Al Spalding?s world tour following the 1888 season. It was a dirty underhanded trick, and the players union was going to reciprocate.
Ward and the rest of the players already were against the reserve clause, which he described as ?a contract, which on its face is for several months being binding for life?. And now a salary cut, he thought?
Playing for and managing the not-so-talented Brooklyn Wonders in the Players League, Ward had one of his best seasons in 1890. Among 100 players who jumped leagues, Ward hit .337 and stole 63 bases, with career-highs of 134 runs scored and 12 triples, to lead Brooklyn into a surprising second-place finish. Defensively, he shone as well with a league-leading 303 putouts and 450 assists.
The season appeared to be a success for the Players League, which outdrew the National League and the American Association, and may have very well been the start of something big had there been enough financial backing. It was for that reason that the Players League folded after one year.
Ward and the other players returned to the National League in time for the 1891 season. Ward stayed put in Brooklyn, where the Bridgegrooms, formerly of the American Association, desired his services after the city had fallen in love with him.
After two years as player-manager with Brooklyn, Ward returned to finish out his career with the Giants in the same capacity. The move across town rejuvenated Ward as he batted .328 in 1893, with a career-high 193 hits, 129 runs scored and 46 thefts on the base paths. Ward, who retired following the 1894 season after leading the Giants to a Temple Cup victory, finished a 17-year career with 2,105 hits, 1,408 runs scored, a .275 batting average and 540 stolen bases (the last total excludes his first eight seasons).
His numbers as a manager may have been even more impressive, if possible, winning 394 of his 701 decisions for a .562 career winning percentage.
Ward was not, in the least bit, lost after his playing days were over. The intellectual had prepared ahead. While other players rested and recovered in between seasons, Ward hit the books hard and earned two degrees - one in law and one in political science - at Columbia University, graduating with honors. With that, Ward became a full-time lawyer and opened his own practice. Among his clients were baseball players, of course, who sought representation in disputes with their teams. His most notable client was Amos Rusie, who sued hated Giants owner Andrew Freedman and benefited by settling out of court.
Ward was indeed a winner. Everything he touched turned to gold. He couldn’t do anything wrong, it seemed, even if he tried.?
As a matter of fact, Ward, who earlier served briefly as the president of the Boston Braves and ran for N.L. President in 1909, was hired as a business manager for the Federal League’s Brooklyn Tip-Tops in their financial fight against Major League Baseball in 1915.
Ward?s talent and versatility even spread to golf and journalism, as he founded and presided over the Long Island Golf Association, and even wrote a few books and articles on baseball.
Ward was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964, almost 39 years after his death.
Here are some other accomplishments by Ward:
Mike Attiyeh is a published baseball historian whose works have appeared in such publications as Baseball Digest, Pirate Report, Society for American Baseball Research, Birch Brook Press, and numerous web sites. Attiyeh, who has appeared as an expert guest analyst on sports radio talk shows throughout the United States, is best known nationally for breaking the story of Tony Gwynn?s blood clot in 1997.
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