The 1902 Style of Playing

By Clifford Blau

There was some excitement on the field that year, also. The Giants took part in three triple plays during the season, two of them on defense. On June 6, the Pirates made one against the Giants which began with a hotly disputed catch by second baseman Claude Ritchey. June 26 saw the Giants make a sharp 6-4-3-2 triple play against the Phillies, in a losing cause. With the bases loaded and no outs, Bean started a routine double play on a ground ball, but when the runner from second tried to score, first baseman O’Hagen snapped the ball to Yeager, who tagged the runner out. That game also featured the use of a courtesy runner by the Phillies, a not unusual practice at the time. When their catcher was hit in the head with a pitch, a pinch-runner was used for him, but the catcher went back behind the plate in the next inning. The final triple play came in the first inning of the July 15 game. This one was started by Mathewson when he caught a bunt pop. Another fielding feat of note was performed by Jones on June 30, in another loss, when he became the second Major Leaguer to throw out three runners at the plate in a game.

The style of play was somewhat looser in 1902 than it is now. Outfielders were able to play more shallow due to the dead ball, yet baserunners heedlessly tried for extra bases. Sometimes it worked out; on August 9th, in the second game of a doubleheader, Dan McGann scored from second on a bunt and four days later McGraw scored from second on a groundout to the shortstop. Roger Bresnahan repeated McGann’s feat on September 10, and on August 19, Ginger Beaumont of the Pirates scored the winning run from first base on a single. However, more often this recklessness resulted in lost baserunners. On August 1, the Giants had three runners thrown out at home in just two innings. In the same game that Bresnahan scored from second on a bunt, the Giants had six runners thrown out stealing or trying for an extra base; they lost the game by one run. On October 2, the Beaneaters and Giants combined to lose twelve baserunners via unforced outs; a thirteenth escaped only due to a throwing error after he was picked off first. The capper, however, had to be the Pirates’ baserunning adventures of July 12th. Beaumont made the final out of the third going from second to third on a grounder. Hans Wagner led off the fourth with a triple but was out at home on Kitty Bransfield’s grounder to first. Bransfield was then thrown out stealing. Claude Ritchey walked, but was then picked off by Mathewson for the third out. Just to show that they hadn’t learned anything, Jimmy Burke led off the fifth with a double, but was nailed trying to stretch it into a triple, the fifth consecutive baserunning error. Luckily the Bucs had a surplus of runners that game; they won four to nothing.

Base stealing was a similarly high-risk gambit in 1902. The overall success rate was about fifty-five percent.(1) Attempts to steal home were fairly common; double steals with runners on first and third and two outs were a popular strategy. The available statistics for the Giants’ games show forty attempts to steal home. Of these, eleven were completely successful, four more resulted in a run as well as an out at second (in those days, if one runner was thrown out on a double steal, the other runner got credit for a stolen base), and twice errors resulted in a run scored. The other twenty-three ended in an out at home. Both the Giants and their opponents had about the same success rate on steals. The Giants stole 152 bases and were thrown out 139 times, while their catchers defended against the steal as follows:

SB Against CS Against SB%
Bowerman 76 81 48.4
Bresnahan 10 11 47.6
Yeager 40 27 59.7
Others 7 5 58.3
Total 133 124 51.8
There was plenty of excitement at the Polo Grounds on September 6. On a day when the Giants gave a gold watch to the groundskeeper Murphy, a fire broke out in the grandstand. Mathewson and McGann helped to put it out. Meanwhile, being shorthanded behind the plate, the Giants tried out Jack Robinson, on loan from Bridgeport of the Connecticut State League, where he was a part-time catcher. Five wild pitches/passed balls and four stolen bases allowed later, he was replaced after seven innings. New York fell to Pittsburgh, nine to three.

Until 1910, a ball thrown into the stands was still in play. The Giants took advantage of this rule on September 29, when Frank Bowerman circled the bases after hitting a routine grounder to Superbas’ shortstop Bill Dahlen, who overthrew first.

Bunting was much more common in 1902 than it is now. On September 1, in the second game of a doubleheader, St. Louis took advantage of the weak Giants’ defense. Five of the first six batters in the second inning bunted, leading to three runs.

In later years, McGraw would disparage the Mathewson-at-first-base experiment, but in fact Matty played several games in the outfield after McGraw took over the club, as did other pitchers; McGinnity even spent a game as the second baseman. This was a common practice due to the small rosters at the time; clubs usually carried no more than sixteen players. A table showing outfielder games by position follows.

Outfielders by position LF CF RF
Dunn 1 3 40
Brodie 0 109 0
Jones 50 3 14
Browne 50 0 3
Bresnahan 0 0 27
Jackson 31 1 2
Van Haltren 3 13 8
Clark 2 9 9
O’Hagen 0 3 5
Hendricks 0 0 7
Delahanty 0 0 7
Cronin 0 0 7
Lauder 2 0 2
Wall 0 0 3
Washburn 0 2 1
McDonald 0 0 2
Mathewson 1 0 3
McGinnity 0 0 4
Thielman 1 2 0
Burke 0 0 2
Callahan 0 0 1
Hartley 1 0 0
(Dunn and McGinnity each played one more game than shown in the official statistics.)

(1)Stolen base statistics are based on data processed for Retrosheet, although more proofreading will be required before the files are released on the Retrosheet web site ( Only 129 games of 139 played are included, some of them incomplete.

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