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The Yankees’ catching mess of 1913

The Yankees used seven different players at catcher in 1913. They were almost all bad.

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The 1913 season was an especially bad one for the Yankees. They would finish 57-94, only avoiding last place in the AL by one game. Their best player, Hal Chase, would reportedly mock manager Frank Chance behind his back, and ended up traded by July.

Few things explain the 1913 season as much as what played out at catcher that year.

On opening day in 1913, Ed Sweeney got the start behind the plate. The 24-year old was in his sixth season as a major leaguer. He was mostly below average as a hitter for his career, and wasn’t much better defensively. The season before, Sweeney committed 34 errors as a catcher, leading the American League.

Sweeney played all of the first six games of the season, had decent results at the plate, and only made one error in that time. In the seventh game of the season, he presumably got hurt and exited early, as he did not get an at-bat against the Washington Senators.

That forced Bob Williams into action. Williams was in his third season as a backup catcher in New York. He had gotten 107 plate appearances in the first two years and OPSed a not great .474.

Wiliams played the next five games for the Yankees and went 2-for-17 with one walk. In the April 24th game, Williams had gotten one of his hits, but was still replaced at catcher by Dutch Sterrett.

In his first major league season in 1912, Sterrett had played catcher, first base, second base, and the outfield in 66 games. The April 24th game would be his lone appearance at the position in 1913. He played just two innings there, but made one error and didn’t play there again. Sterrett started off the season playing a decent amount at first base, but was soon relegated to mostly pinch hitting. Considering that he hit .171/.216/.171, the pinch hitting thing didn’t work either. Sterrett played his last game for the Yankees on June 17th of that year, and never played in the majors again.

Williams returned to the starting lineup, but on April 26th, he was replaced by a returning Sweeney after going 0-2. Williams did not play in the majors again, and finished his career with a .455 OPS.

The Yankees’ next game was on April 30th, and Sweeney remained in the lineup, going 1-for-3. With the Yankees down 8-1 to the Red Sox, he was replaced by catcher number four, Dick Gossett. Gossett didn’t reach base in his one at-bat, and Sweeney then returned to the lineup and played every inning from then until May 16th.

Gossett spent the next several weeks as mostly backup catcher. In the first game of a doubleheader on July 4th, Sweeney had to be removed from a game early (presumably for injury again), and Gossett went on to play most of both games that day. After the doubleheader, Gossett was hitting .121/.216/.121, and that includes two hits he got in the second game that day.

Presumably not wanting to rely on Gossett full time, catcher number five was brought in. Joe Smith replaced Gossett in the first game of a doubleheader on July 7th, and then played all of the second game. Smith was just 19, and didn’t manage to improve things at the position. He didn’t get his first major league hit until his fifth game, after going 0-for-11 in the first four.

After July 13th, Smith had gotten three hits and no walks in 20 at-bats. So what do you do when your 19-year old catcher isn’t hitting well? Go get a younger one, obviously.

On July 14, Harry Hanson played the last couple innings behind the plate in relief of Smith. He also got two at bats, going 0-for-2. Oh, and Hanson was 17 years old. To this day, Harry Hanson is the youngest ever Yankee. He played just one major league game, and never made it back.

Smith meanwhile hung around until July 22nd. He upped his total to five hits on the season, but still had no walks or extra base hits.

Sweeney finally made it back to the Yankees on July 26th. Over the next two months he and Gossett went back to their roles as starter and backup. In his second game back on July 29th, Sweeney went 3-for-4 and was hitting .282/.356/.359 on the season. For a catcher in 1913, those weren’t terrible numbers.

His numbers from that point of the season dropped, but Sweeney remained about an average hitting catcher. Gossett continued to be bad. He played his last game of the season on September 23rd, and went 1-for-1. That allowed him to finish the season with a .435 OPS. Gossett returned and played 10 games for the Yankees next season, but didn’t do any better. He didn’t play in the majors after 1914.

At some point in September, the Yankees presumably started looking for anything. They brought in 28-year old Bill Reynolds. He went 0-for-5 across five games. Smith came back for one game in September and went 0-for-1.

The seven players the Yankees used at catcher that year combined to hit .215/.320/.253. Take Ed Sweeney out of that, and it drops to .157/.216/.167. On top of that, they combined to make 37 errors.

Four of those players did not play in the majors again after 1913. Two others played briefly in 1914, and then never again. Only Sweeney had an extended career after that, and he only played 157 more games across three seasons.

First base has been a bit of a mess for the Yankees this year. Thankfully, it’s not as bad as the catching situation in 1913.