The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Washington”

Those Who Caught the Great Pitchers: Part 1 – Eddie Ainsmith

My wife tells me that behind every great man is an even greater woman.  Actually, she just tells me to take out the trash, but it works out to the same thing, at least in my imagination.  Then again, since I’m not even remotely a great man, does that still make her a merely somewhat great woman?  Perhaps behind (or alongside, or even in front of) a mediocre guy like myself there is a truly special woman who puts up with a lot his dumb, pointless nonsense.  Yup, that must be it.

At any rate, that got me to wondering (while taking out said trash) if behind every great pitcher there is a great catcher.  I don’t necessarily mean great as measured by batting average, OPS+ or WAR, but simply by being that pitcher’s primary catcher over an extended period of time.  Just as it’s impossible to quantify how much my wife has done for me over the past 15 years or so, maybe a catcher has a similarly positive, yet hard to quantify, effect on a pitcher.

So I thought I’d take a look at some of the forgotten or semi-forgotten catchers in baseball history who have caught baseball’s greatest pitchers.  I know that as I research this topic, I will learn a lot more about these players than I’ve known before.  And, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to get this post done before my wife tells me to take out the trash again.

Edward Ainsmith

Edward Ainsmith (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Walter Johnson made 666 starts in his career.  Nineteen different catchers caught at least one of Walter Johnson’s starts.  Only one of them, however, caught more than 200 of Johnson’s efforts.  His name was Eddie Ainsmith.

Actually, he was born Edward Anshmedt, his family changing his name after they passed through Ellis Island in the waning years of the 19th century.  You see, little Eddie was born in Russia, and his family’s surname was Anglicized upon naturalization.  It happened a lot back then.  At any rate, young Ainsmith’s family eventually ended up in New Hampshire, which is where Eddie grew up.

He graduated from Colby Academy (now Colby-Sawyer College) in New London, NH in approximately 1907 or ’08.  He must have been one heck of a young baseball prospect in his time because by age 20 in 1910, he made his Major League debut with the Washington Senators.

Through his first five seasons, Ainsmith was often brought in as a late-inning defensive replacement, or as a pinch-runner or pinch-hitter.  For a catcher, Ainsmith was a pretty good base-runner, notching 17 steals in 1913, and 16 steals in 1917.  In fact, on June 26, 1913, Ainsmith stole second-base, third-base and home in the first game of a double-header vs. the A’s.  The A’s still won the game, however, 11-2.

It wasn’t until 1917 when Ainsmith was already 27-years old that he became the Senators’ primary catcher.  By then, Walter Johnson was already at the mid-point of his career, and had already enjoyed several fantastic seasons.

Ainsmith’s final season in a Washington Senator’s uniform was in 1918.  Nevertheless, in his relatively short stint as the Senator’s primary catcher, he caught Johnson 210 times, more than any other catcher in team history.

Never much of a hitter, Ainsmith batted just .207 during his nine years in Washington.  He ended up in Detroit for the 1919-1921 seasons, then was traded again, this time to St. Louis in the second-half of the ’21 season.  He hit well in 1921 and ’22 (as did almost everyone else with the new, “live” ball), batting .281 and .293, respectively.

Yet by 1923 and ’24, his career was all but over.  He played just a handful of games in each of those two seasons, playing small roles for first Brooklyn, then for the Giants.  Ainsmith played his final MLB game July 21, 1924 at age 34.

He retired with a .232 career batting average, 22 home runs, and 86 stolen bases in 1,078 games played.  His career dWAR was 3.6, and his overall career WAR was just 5.7, so he was obviously primarily a defensive specialist.  In fact, he led the A.L. in Range Factor / Game three times, in 1912, 1917-1918.

One other thing I found interesting about Ainsmith was that on July 19, 1918, as WWI was slowly grinding to a halt, Ainsmith applied for a draft deferment.  Secretary of War Newton Baker, however, had other ideas.  He ruled that baseball was not an “essential occupation” (take that, baseball) and that all players of draft age were subject to the “work-in-essential-industries-or-fight” rule.

A week later, though, Baker sort of changed his mind (under pressure from the baseball oligarchs, apparently) and allowed an exemption for ballplayers until September 1st of that year.  Both leagues voted to cut the season short, and the season ended on Labor Day, September 2nd, 1918 (exactly 95 years ago today.)

The Great War Armistice occurred on 11 November 1918, so Eddie Ainsmith never went off to war anyway.  But we are left to wonder why Ainsmith would attempt to seek a deferment from the draft at all, a rather unusual step in those days.

Was he just too scared to fight?  Was he a pacifist?  Was he concerned that going off to war might ruin his baseball career?  Or could it have been that because he was born in Russia, and that perhaps Anshmedt is actually a German name (there was a large German population in Russia at one time), could it have been that his family connections to  Europe made it too difficult for him to contemplate taking up arms on a European battefield, perhaps against even his own former countryman?  We can only guess at his motivations.

Eddie Ainsmith did go on to live to the age of 91, passing away in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1981.

Did Ainsmith make Walter Johnson a better pitcher?  That seems highly unlikely.  But it is worth noting that of the 562 games he caught in Washington, he was behind the plate 210 times to catch The Big Train.  That means that in 37% of Ainsmith’s games as a catcher, Johnson was on the mound.  In effect, it appears that Ainsmith was virtually Johnson’s personal catcher for several years.

Ainsmith did not enjoy a Hall of Fame career as Walter Johnson did, but having had the opportunity to emigrate to the United States, enjoy a 15-year career as a catcher, and being able to boast that he caught the great Walter Johnson a couple hundred times is a career, and a life, worth having lived.

National League Baseball Predictions – 2013

Since this is the second part of a two-part mini-series, I’ll dispense with a redundant introduction.  If you want to read Part 1, my American League Predictions, that initial introduction should suffice.

So, let’s get on with it.

National League

East

1)  Washington – Fields two of the most exciting players in the game (Strasburg and Harper).  Made the playoffs last year without breaking a sweat.  Could win a hundred games this year.  Harper will win the N.L. MVP award.  Strasburg averaged 11 K’s / 9 innings last year, and could win the Cy Young award this year.

2)  Atlanta – Two-thirds of their new outfield, the Brothers Upton, have been more disappointing than the latest unemployment numbers, and the third, Jason Heyward, has had his share of growing pains as well.  Still, no team in their division outside of Washington is obviously better.  87 wins.

3)  Philadelphia – Appears to be melting before us like a snowman in the March sun.  Older, residual talent, mostly of the pitching variety, will be sufficient to grind through an 84-win season.

4)  New York – A couple of young players, perhaps Ike Davis and Matt Harvey, will shine, but a sub-par outfield and overall lack of depth will ensure another sub-.500 season out in Queens.

5)  Florida – Is there anything left to root for down in Miami?  Fans should stay home in droves this year in protest of this sham of a franchise.

Central

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1)  Cincinnati – Votto, Bruce and Choo (acquired from Cleveland) will produce oodles of offense, while Cueto and Latos will hold down a respectable staff.  92 wins should be sufficient to take this division.

2)  St. Louis – Yadier Molina might be in the first-half of a HOF career.  Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran are still fine players, but both are well past 30 years old.  Pitching staff appears adequate, if unspectacular = 86 wins.

3)  Milwaukee – “There once was a player named Ryan / For PED’s he kept sayin’ he’d not tried ’em / But his name it did appear / on a client’s list so clear / Makes you wonder how much more he’ll be denyin’.”  83 wins.

4)   Pittsburgh – Because the Cubs don’t have Andrew McCutchen.  Once again, a sub-.500 team.  77 wins.

5)  Chicago – Staff “ace” Matt Garza is a perennial tease.  New addition Edwin Jackson, now on his 8th team in eleven years, changes teams more often than a hooker changes her underwear.  But really, it’s always been about an afternoon in the sun at Wrigley, hasn’t it?

West

1)  Los Angeles – Manager Don Mattingly needs to drive this expensive new vehicle into first place, or upper management might be looking for a new driver next season.  With Kershaw and Greinke at the top of the rotation, and Kemp, A-Gone, Hanley, Crawford and Ethier in the lineup, this team either wins the division, or heads will roll.  95 wins.

2)  San Francisco – Pencil them in as one of the two N.L. Wild Card teams this year, because nobody does it better. Tim Lincecum will look to rebound and join the highly capable Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner in what should once again be a top-five N.L. pitching staff.  Catcher Buster Posey may be the best in the game.  87 wins.

3)  San Diego – Has apparently moved in the fences this year, which should help Alonso, Quentin, and Headley (one of baseball’s best kept secrets.)  But what the fences giveth, the fences will take away, namely an overly spacious park where fly-balls used to go to die.  But the pitching staff, led by the enigmatic Edinson Volquez, could suffer a bit as a result.   81 wins.

4)  Arizona – So what does Arizona know about Justin Upton that the Braves don’t know?  Martin Prado is a versatile player, and there should still be enough thump in the lineup to keep the score interesting.  The staff, with Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy, could be this team’s strength, if healthy.  79 wins.

5)  Colorado – Once upon a time, they were the toast of the American West, drawing over four million souls in their initial campaign.  Now, although a healthy Tulowitzki, along with Car-Go and Fowler should generate some runs, the pitching staff may be the worst in baseball.  Also, it’s time to tow the S.S. Helton out to sea so the Navy could use it for strafing runs.  71 wins.

So there you go, folks.  Your five N.L. playoff teams are probably Washington, Atlanta, Cincinnati, L.A., and San Fran.  I predict that the Nats will go on to defeat the Angels in a seven game World Series classic.

Or not.

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