Tristram E. Speaker (April 4, 1888 - December 8, 1958), nicknamed “Spoke” (a play on his last name) and “Grey Eagle” (for his prematurely graying hair), was an American baseball player known as one of the best offensive and defensive center fielders in history. Speaker was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame during the second year of voting, 1937.
Speaker played in 7 games for the Red Sox in getting 3 hits in 19 at bats for a .158 average. The following year, the Red Sox traded Speaker to the Little Rock Travelers of the Southern League in exchange for use of their facilities for spring training in . Speaker ended up batting .350 for the Travelers and his contract was repurchased by the Red Sox. Speaker ended up making it into 31 games and got 26 hits in 116 at bats for a .224 average.
In the Red Sox signed Duffy Lewis (LF). Along with Speaker and Harry Hooper (RF) they would form Boston’s “Million-Dollar Outfield”, one of the finest outfield trios in baseball history. The outfield was broken up when Speaker was traded to the Cleveland Indians in 1916.
Speaker’s best season came in 1912. The Red Sox opened the newly built Fenway Park on April 20, . Speaker played in every one of the Red Sox' 153 games, leading the American League in doubles with 53, and home runs with 10. He set a career high with 222 hits, 136 runs, 580 at-bats, and 52 steals. He was at the top of his game. He batted .383, a mark he would surpass three times in his career, but his .567 slugging percentage was the highest of his dead ball days. Speaker set a major league record when he had three batting streaks of 20 (30, 23, 22) or more games during the season. In center field he helped the Red Sox pitching staff by stabbing line drives and throwing out greedy base runners. The Red Sox won the pennant by finishing 14 games ahead of the Washington Senators and 15 games ahead of the Philadelphia A’s.
And now the ball settles. It is full and fair in the pouch of the padded glove of Snodgrass. But he is too eager to toss it to Murray and it dribbles to the ground.- NY Times, October 17th, .
Perhaps as the NY Times article suggests, Snodgrass hurried the play. He later said, "I dropped the darn thing." With Engle on second - the recipient of one of the largest gifts New York has given to Boston - up came Harry Hooper. Mathewson was tiring and whatever pitch he came in with, Hooper ripped it out towards center field. The ball appeared to be headed over Snodgrass' head. If not caught, it would probably be a triple. But Snodgrass chased the ball down for the first out. Engle advanced to third.
Out of steam, Mathewson walked second baseman Steve Yerkes. The modern day fan would surely criticize McGraw for leaving his ace in, but that was the way things were back then in the dead ball era. You went with a guy like Mathewson. Speaker was up next. If ever there was a batter who deserved to be called dangerous, it was Speaker. Perhaps sensing Mathewson's weakening arm, he went after the first pitch. He popped it up though, a catchable ball between first and home in foul territory and close to the Red Sox dugout.
What happened next, or explaining why who did what, is difficult to completely ascertain. Some writers point the finger at Merkle, the Giants’ first baseman, who they believe should have made the play. Noel Hynd, author of The Giants of the Polo Grounds blames Mathewson for calling out to his catcher to make the play. In Merkle's defense, Giants’ catcher Chief Meyers said, "the Boston bench called for Matty to take it, and called for me to take it, and I think that confused Fred. He was afraid of a collision."
Harry Hooper, who was sitting on the Red Sox bench, said "Meyers didn't have a chance, but Matty kept calling for him to take it. If he'd called for Merkle, it would have been an easy out. Or Matty could have taken it himself. But he kept calling for Chief to take it, and poor Chief...lumbered down that line...and just missed it." In Mathewson's defense, Merkle, according to writer Hugh Fullerton who witnessed the play, "quit cold."
Regardless of whose fault it was, the Giants had given the Red Sox another out. Speaker knew it and taunted Mathewson. "Well, that's gonna cost you the ball game!" Speaker then backed up his claim by hitting the next pitch to center field. Engle scored the tying run and Yerkes went to third.
McGraw, knowing Mathewson was as capable as any pitcher of ushering up enough courage to get two more outs, stayed with his starter. Larry Gardner then hit a long fly ball to right field. Giants right fielder Josh Devore caught it, but his long throw home could not catch Yerkes. The Red Sox claimed their second World Series. Speaker led his team with a .300 batting average, nine hits and four runs scored.
The New York press, needing to explain what happened in one headline, wrote: Snodgrass $30,000 muff costs Giants victory. Giants owner John T. Brush, needing to get away, hopped on a train for California. In ill-health, he never made it. After a stop in St. Louis, the Giants third owner died.
The angry Speaker held out for $10,000 of that cash that Boston had received and eventually, with the aid of AL President Ban Johnson, got it. Speaker’s contract with Cleveland for $40,000 was the highest in baseball at the time. For many years, this trade was considered the worst in Red Sox history, even after Babe Ruth blossomed into a star with the Yankees. It is still considered one of the most one-sided deals in baseball history.
Speaker averaged over .350 for ten of his 11 years in Cleveland. In Speaker finally ended Ty Cobb's amazing run of nine consecutive AL batting titles by batting .386 to Cobb’s .371. Speaker's return to Boston, May 9, , was an unofficial tribute by the fans, over 15,000 showed up and roared with approval every time he came near the ball. Reacting without thinking at the end of one inning Speaker started towards the Boston dugout. The crowd went wild. His return was only spoiled by the Indians' loss of 5-1.
On September 1, in a game against the Tigers in Cleveland, Speaker was hit with the ball as he tried to steal home in the bottom of the first inning. Batter Joe Evans swung away and lined the ball into Speaker's face. Detroit manager Hughie Jennings, as a courtesy, allowed Speaker to sit out the second inning while his face was sewn up. Elmer Smith played center field until Tris returned in the third.
As a center fielder, Speaker played so shallowly for most hitters that he was like a fifth infielder, swift of foot, chasing down potential singles. Twice in 1914, on April 21 and August 8, he executed an unassisted double play at second base, snaring low line drives on the run and then beating base runners to the bag. He repeated this feat in 1918 with the Indians, on April 18 and April 29, and turned six of them during his career. At least once in his career he was credited as the pivot man in a routine double play. Bill Carrigan, a longtime teammate of Speaker's on the Red Sox, often would send a pickoff throw from his catcher's position to Speaker who had sneaked in on second base. In addition, as Indians' manager he insisted the team practice a play where he would come in from center field to cover second on bunt plays, thus freeing up his shortstop to cover third, and his third baseman to charge the bunts.
"according to (Cleveland writer) Franklin Lewis, manager Lee Fohl had come to rely heavily on... Speaker for counsel on changing pitchers during a game. If Speaker thought a change would be made he would signal to Fohl in the dugout and also indicate who the replacement would be. In one game in mid-season when things were not going so well, Speaker signaled for a certain pitcher to be brought in from the bullpen. But Fohl misread Speaker's signal and brought in Fritz Coumbe instead of the man Speaker had intended. At first Speaker tried to correct the mistake, but then realized it would look like he was reversing the manager, so he let it pass. It so happened that Coumbe lost the game and that night Fohl resigned as manager and Speaker was named to replace him. Speaker felt badly about the incident because he felt he was the cause of Fohl's departure."
54 years later, Uhle remembered the incident, but couldn't say for sure if Speaker was making the changes because he was still quite new to the team at the time. However, he said it reminded him of another Coumbe story:
"I was sitting on the bench with Guy Morton one day when we were playing the Yankees. Coumbe was near by. Babe Ruth came up and got a hit. 'I know how to pitch to that big monkey,' Coumbe remarked. Well he was sent to the bullpen to warm up and later got into the game. 'Now we'll see,' said Morton, 'whether he can pitch to Ruth or not.' Well, Babe knocked the first pitch out of the park. Guy and I both got a big kick out of that and within a day or two, Coumbe was gone just like Fohl."
As it turns out, these two events happened in the same game. The Indians played the Red Sox on July 18, . After Cleveland scored four times in the bottom of the 8th to take a 7-3 lead, Boston countered with a run and Coumbe came in to face Ruth with the bases loaded. The Babe unloaded them with his second homer of the game and the Sox won 8-7. The Sporting News reported that Coumbe cried like a baby and Fohl resigned after the game citing growing criticism from the fans. Speaker was named as his successor. As the Indians had a history of managers quitting mid-season, TSN correspondent Henry P. Edwards stated that, although the resignation was unexpected, the only real surprise would have been if Speaker had not been named player-manager.
In 1920, Speaker guided the Indians to their first ever World Series Championship despite the death of Ray Chapman on August 17 after being hit in the head by a pitch from Carl Mays. In what many call the catch that won the pennant for the 1920 Indians, Speaker, his team playing a season-ending game with the Chicago White Sox, caught a screaming line drive hit to deep right-center field by Shoeless Joe Jackson. On the dead run, Speaker leaped with both feet off the ground and snared the ball before crashing into a concrete wall. Laying unconscious from the impact, he still had a viselike grip on the ball.
Speaker singled off Senator pitcher Tom Zachary on May 17, , to become the fifth member of the 3000 hit club and the second man to reach the historic mark while wearing a Cleveland uniform (Napoleon Lajoie was the first). Two years later, Tom Zachary's name would once again enter the annals of baseball, this time as the pitcher who gave up Babe Ruth's 60th home run of .
He managed for 1137 games finishing 617-520 before “retiring” as a manager, but not as a player. This “retirement” was forced by AL President Ban Johnson after a scandal involving gambling broke in in which Dutch Leonard claimed that Speaker and Ty Cobb fixed at least one Cleveland-Detroit game. Both Speaker and Cobb were forced to “resign” as managers.
It seemed that Leonard was bitter about being let go from organized baseball in what he felt was a conspiracy by Speaker and Cobb. He used the game-fixing charges as a way to retaliate against the two men so that they would know what it would be like to be run out of the league. His plan failed as he was unable to convince either Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis or the public that the two had done anything for which they deserved to be kicked out of baseball.
When Leonard refused to appear at the January 5, hearings to discuss his accusations, Landis cleared both Speaker and Cobb of any wrongdoing and reinstated to their original teams, but each team let them know that they were free agents and could sign with whomever they wished. Speaker signed with the Washington Senators for , Cobb with the Philadelphia Athletics. Speaker then joined Cobb in Philadelphia for the season where he came to the plate only 191 times and finished with a .267 average.
Speaker helped found the Cleveland Society for Crippled Children and Camp Cheerful. From 1947 to his death, Speaker was an adviser, coach, and scout for the Indians. In an article in the July 1952 issue of SPORT magazine, Speaker recounted how he was hired as a coaching consultant by Bill Veeck to be a tutor to Larry Doby, who the Indians had signed in 1947. A SPORT photographthat accompanied the article shows Speaker mentoring five members of the Indians -- Luke Easter, Jim Hegan, Ray Boone, Al Rosen and Doby. Speaker married Mary Frances Cudahy in 1925.
Speaker is mentioned in the poem "Lineup for Yesterday" by Ogden Nash:
In 2008, Speaker's name was brought up by Marvin Miller, who served as the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966 to 1982, as a player who should be removed from the Hall of Fame because of alleged membership in the Ku Klux Klan. Miller said in an interview with Baseball Prospectus, "Some of the early people inducted in the Hall were members of the Ku Klux Klan: Tris Speaker, Cap Anson, and some people suspect Ty Cobb as well. I think that by and large, the players, and certainly the ones I knew, are good people. But the Hall is full of villains." Baseball Prospectus. Retrieved on 2008-05-29..