Monday, March 3, 2014

Happy Jack!

Remember when I said that the T206 Birdie Cree I blogged about a few days ago would be the only baseball card I'd purchase in February?
For those of you that do remember, I'd like to apologize for lying to you.

While I didn't buy any packs or boxes, I ended up buying TWO baseball cards this month. You already saw one of them, here's the other one...

T206 Jack Chesbro Piedmont Back

BANG! x∞!!!

Yes ladies and gentlemen, I picked up another T206 New York Yankee Highlander. And not just any Highlander, it's Happy Jack Chesbro!
Because I'm such an obsessed fanboy, I've prepared this history lesson for you about everything (or almost everything) Jack Chesbro.

John D. "Happy Jack Chesbro" Cheesbro (Photo Courtesy of Lone Cadaver)

Jack Chesbro was born on June 5th, 1874 in Houghtonville, Massachusetts as John Dwight Cheesbro. Chesbro played in the majors for 11 seasons from 1899 to 1909 as a right handed pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Highlanders and Boston Red Sox. Chesbro started his professional baseball career by pitching for the semi-pro Houghtonville Team of North Adams. Then he moved to New York and played for the Asylums (a baseball team that was operated by the Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital) in 1894 while also working with patients there. It was there that he was given his nickname "Happy Jack," due to his pleasant demeanor, by one of the patients. Then from 1895 to 1899 Mr. Chesbro played for the following minor league teams.
  • The Albany Senators ('95)
  • The Johnstown Buckskins ('95)
  • The Springfield Maroons ('95)
  • The Cooperstown Athletics ('95 & '96)
  • The Roanoke Magicians ('96)
  • The Richmond Bluebirds ('97-'99)

1898 Cabinet Card of Richmond-era Chesbro (Photo Courtesy of Cycleback)

Rumor has it that Cheesbro's last name was shortened to Chesbro during his time with the Cooperstown baseball team so that it could fit in the box score.
In 1899 Chesbro was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles (the first Orioles team, the one that shut down in 1899) but never signed with them. Instead he was sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates for $1,500 and made his MLB debut (according to his Baseball Reference page and profile) on July 12th, 1899. The 25 year old righty finished the 1899 season with a 6-9 record, 4.11 ERA, 149 innings pitched and a 1.503 WHIP.

Chesbro (1) With The 1901 Pittsburgh Pirates (Photo Courtesy of Baseball Revisited)

During the 1899 off-season, Chesbro was involved in a massive 16 player trade. He was traded along with Art Madison, John O'Brien, George Fox and cash considerations to the Louisville Colonels in exchange for Fred Clarke, Bert Cunningham, Mike Kelley, Tacks Latimer, Tommy Leach, Tom Messitt, Deacon Phillippe, Claude Ritchey, Rube Waddell, Jack Wadsworth, Chief Zimmer and HONUS MOTHERLOVING WAGNER!
That's right Pirates fans, you indirectly have Jack Chesbro to thank for Honus Wagner. Kind of.

A few weeks later the Colonels shut down (the National League reduced it's number of teams from 12 to 8 teams and Louisville was one of the four teams that didn't make it) and Chesbro returned to the Pirates in 1900. He stayed with the Pirates for two more seasons and even led the league in Wins (28) and Winning Percentage (.824) in 1902.

By September 1902, Chesbro had jumped (back then going from one league to another, usually for more money, was known as "contract jumping") to the American League and signed with the Greater New Yorks aka the New York Highlanders.
Chesbro started the very first New York Highlanders game on Wednesday April 22nd, 1903. The Highlanders faced the Washington Senators (now known as the Minnesota Twins) and lost their first game 3-1. The Highlanders finished their inaugural season in fourth place and Chesbro finished his first season as a Highlander with a 21-15 record, 2.77 ERA, 324.2 innings pitched and a 1.152 WHIP.

1903 Breisch-Williams Card of Jack Chesbro (Photo Courtesy of Vintage Card Prices)

According to this excellent biography on Sabr (which is where most of my information is coming from) Chesbro learned how to throw the spitball sometime before the 1904 season (possibly from Elmer Stricklett). Which became Chesbro's signature pitch (for the most part). I presume that Chesbro primarily relied on his fastball before adopting the spitball (I'm still looking into what else his pitching arsenal might've featured).
And in 1904, Jack Chesbro made baseball history. Twice.

With the help of his new spitball (often called the "moist ball" by reporters), Chesbro became a workhorse in 1904. According to the New York Times he was so good that he was even called "Iron Man." He led the league in innings pitched with 454.2 innings, games pitched with 55 games, games started with 51 starts, games completed with 48 complete games, win-loss percentage with a .744% win percentage and (of course) games won with 41 wins. Chesbro's 41st win came in a 3-2 victory against Boston on October 7th, 1904.
As much as I'd like to say that this is the major league record, it's only the American League record for most wins in a single-season. The major league record is actually 59 wins (or 60 depending on your source). The record was established in 1884 by Charley "Old Hoss" Gardner Radbourn of the Providence Grays (an ancient/long defunct National League team). And believe it or not Chesbro is actually tied for 25th place on the all-time list of single season game winners with four other pitchers. Although Chesbro is the only pitcher in the top 25 single-season game winners who accomplished his feat in the 20th century (the rest are from the 19th century).
BTW, Chesbro also won 14 consecutive games for the Highlanders in 1904. A franchise record that was later tied by Whitey Ford in 1961 and eventually broken by Roger Clemens in 2001.

Jack Chesbro circa 1904 (Photo Courtesy of The Library Of Congress)

Now for the other notable Chesbro-centered event that happened in 1904.
As the 1904 season was winding down, the New York Highlanders and Boston Americans were battling each other for the AL Pennant. On October 10th, 1904, the final day of the 1904 regular season, the two teams played a double header against eachother. In order to win the pennant the Highlanders would need to win both games against Boston.
Chesbro pitched in the first game against Boston on little rest. He shutout Boston for the first 6 innings but Boston tied the game, 2-2, in the seventh inning. The score stayed that way until the top of the ninth inning when Chesbro faced Freddy Parent with 2 outs and a runner at third. On the 2-2 pitch, Chesbro threw a wild pitch that went over the head of catcher Red Kleinow. With that the runner at third, Lou Criger, came home. That run became the winning run as Bill Dinneen kept the Highlanders scoreless in the bottom of the 9th, sealing New York's fate. At the time this was a very big moment that would pretty much haunt Chesbro for the rest of his life (there was a time when it even overshadowed his 41 wins). It certainly didn't help that the Highlanders won the second game of the double header that day. Although Clark Griffith (the-then manager for the Highlanders) and Chesbro's wife claimed the pitch was a passed ball and blamed the run on Kleinow.

After Chesbro's eventful 1904, he was never quite the same.
Despite rumors of retirement, Chesbro came back to the Highlanders in 1905 and was the Opening Day starter. During the off-season he said that he had created a new pitched called the "jump ball." A pitch that was allegedly supposed to be like a riser (a pitch that goes up as it gets closer to the batter) only the jump ball was supposed to abruptly "jump" instead of gradually rising after being thrown.
Unfortunately that pitch never did anything for Chesbro (I ponder whether he even used it). He kept on relying on the spitball. His arm was noticeably weaker in 1905 (possibly from using the spitball too much) and Chesbro finished the 1905 season with a 19-15 record, 2.20 ERA, 303.1 innings pitched and a 1.098 WHIP.

Jack Chesbro circa 1905 (Photo Courtesy of The Library Of Congress)

1906 was only slightly better for Chesbro as he went 23-17 and led the AL in games pitched (49) and games started (42) but also allowed the most earned runs (107) and was taken out of games more frequently than any other pitcher in the league.

In 1907 things really started getting worse for Chesbro. He went 10-10 with a 2.53 ERA in only 206 innings. He did venture into the lumber business sometime in (or possibly before) 1907 though.
Chesbro continued to decline in 1908 as he had a 14-20 record with a 2.93 ERA in 288.2 innings pitched that season.
And in 1909, it all came apart.
Chesbro skipped Spring Training that year and was suspended until May 24th. He pitched in 9 games for the Highlanders (going 0-4 in the process) and was waived to the Boston Red Sox on September 11th, 1909. Chesbro only made one start for the Red Sox (ironically against the Yankees) but was "found easy" by the Highlanders and was out of the game after giving up 4 runs in 6 innings (Highlanders won the game 6-5).

That game would also be Chesbro's last major league game as the Red Sox returned Chesbro to the Highlanders in 1910 but he refused to pitch in the minors and was released unconditionally.
Chesbro went back to running a farm he purchased around 1900 in Conway, Massachusetts as well as keeping tabs on his lumber business. He also pitched for the semi-pro Whitinsville baseball team and led them to a championship that year.
In 1911 Chesbro continued pitching for local semi-pro teams while also coaching at the Massachusetts Agricultural College (now the University of Massachusetts).

Senators-era(?) Chesbro (Photo Courtesy of Lone Cadaver)

On March 20th, 1912 Jack Chesbro was reinstated into Major League Baseball and the 35 year old was hoping for a comeback. He negotiated and worked out with the Highlanders as well as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Brooklyn Superbas (now known as the Los Angeles Dodgers). But at that point it did not look as though Chesbro could be an effective pitcher in the major leagues anymore and the Highlanders eventually changed their minds as manager Harry Wolverton "decided that he had too many promising young pitchers to entertain any hope of a veteran coming back" and released Chesbro for the final time. The Pirates and Superbas also said no to Chesbro.
After that, Chesbro pitched in a major league stadium one last time on September 11th, 1922 as part of a old timers game being held at Braves Field. He was even a coach for the 1924 Washington Senators but was cut from the coaching staff in June. In 1927 Chesbro was still playing baseball as a manager and occasionally a pitcher for the semi-pro South Deerfield baseball team.

Jack Chesbro passed away on November 6th, 1931 at the age of 57 due to a heart attack. He was survived by his wife Mabel Shuttleworth.

15 years later (1946) Chesbro was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. Although Chesbro's induction did cause some controversy as some felt that Chesbro was only inducted because of his 1904 season and that his career as a whole isn't up to the Hall's standards (essentially the same argument people use against inducting Roger Maris into the HoF).

HoF Plaque (Photo Courtesy of Lone Cadaver)

Personally I think Chesbro is deserving of his HoF induction (then again I'm very biased). And I'm more annoyed at how Chesbro hasn't been honored in Monument Park yet. IMO Chesbro, Keeler and Chase definitely deserve to be honored as Yankees greats. Then again the Yankees almost never acknowledge their Highlanders and Baltimore Orioles days (yes, the New York Yankees were once the Baltimore Orioles) so I don't see that happening anytime soon.

These graded cards are a pain to scan

Anyway back to the card.
Some of you may have noticed that it's been graded. As of this post this Chesbro is the only graded card in my collection and time will tell how long this stays in it's plastic tomb. For now I'll leave it alone and hopelessly stare at it while simultaneously wondering how this card was able to get a "GOOD" grade with that pretty big crease. Although I guess the corners are quite sharp.
Not like the grade matters though since I got this for only a couple dollars more than what T206 Chesbros that have been graded "POOR" have gone for on eBay.

Well I've definitely rambled on long enough and I apologize for this ridiculously long post. After the horrible half-assed history lesson I "provided" for Birdie Cree last time I wanted to go all out and give Chesbro the full treatment. Well okay, that's not entirely accurate since there were still some things I left out (I might touch upon them in the future).
I'd really like to thank all of you who lasted this long. I've got a little something in mind to reward those of you who actually read all of this in the future.
As always thanks for reading and take care everybody :).



  1. I picked up a t206 and a t205 last week myself. The Chesbro is a great pick up. Still haven't bought a lack of 2014's.yet

    1. Awesome. Out of curiosity which T206 and T205 did you pick up (I'm guessing some Boston Americans)?

  2. Awesome card! Great background info too.

    1. Thanks man. Looking up Chesbro's life was pretty fun (and easy thanks to Sabr).