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Harry Wolverton and the worst season in Yankees’ history

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The 1912 season was record-setting for the Yankees, and not in a good way.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

After a decent eight-year career in the majors, the Boston Beaneaters released Harry Wolverton following the 1905 season. Not ready to hang up his cleats, Wolverton became a player-manager for several different minor league teams. Over the next few years, he established himself as one of the best managers in the minors.

That made Wolverton seem like a solid choice to become manager of the New York Yankees following the resignation of Hal Chase after the 1911 season. He took over a team that had finished .500 the season before, and seemed to be in decent position to make a run in 1912.

Right from the beginning, though, the 1912 season didn’t go as expected. The Yankees’ planned spring training in Atlanta was hampered by rain, and they went into the regular season completely undercooked. Wolverton’s Yankees started the season 0-6, losing by a combined score of 36-12. They earned their first win in the seventh game of the season, but followed that with a 1-4 run over the next five games.

By the time May was over, the Yankees were 12-22 and already sat 13 games out of first place. It never got better after that. Injuries and bad play stymied the Yankees all season, forcing Wolverton to make constant lineup changes. He even used himself as a player. At age 38, he played in 34 games, hitting about a league average .300/.340/.360. In all, the Yankees used 44 players that season. Consider that the Yankees used 56 in 2013, in an era with big bullpens and specialist relievers. For 1912, that’s pretty crazy.

Wolverton never really offered any excuses for the poor play. He was famous for wearing sombreros, smoking cigars in the dugout, and spent the whole season calling the Yankees “the Highlanders”, even though the name was almost completely out of use by this time. As the season went down the drain, Wolverton stayed positive and said they would win the pennant next year.

The Yankees ended the season with a 50-102 record. They finished in last, 55 games out of first place. The .329 winning percentage is still the worst of any year in the history of the franchise. Wolverton was unsurprisingly fired after the season.

He returned to minor league management after that. Wolverton never got another shot as a major league manager, though. He finished his career in baseball in 1923 when he resigned as Seattle’s manager in the Pacific Coast League after a dispute with the owners. Some years later, he ended up working in the Oakland Police Department. In 1937, he was involved in two hit-and-run accidents in the same night while on duty and died at age 63.

A decent amount of what happened in 1912 had nothing to do with Harry Wolverton. However, he does still go down as the manager of the worst Yankees’ team in history. Oh, in case you were wondering, the Yankees did not win the pennant in 1913.