Jesse Niles Tannehill
(Tanny or Powder)
- Bats Both, Throws Left
- Height 5' 8", Weight 150 lb.
- Debut June 17, 1894
- Final Game April 12, 1911
- Born July 14, 1874 in Dayton, KY USA
- Died September 22, 1956 in Dayton, KY USA
Jesse Tannehill was an excellent two-way player at the turn of the 20th Century. Born in the Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati, OH, he was the son of a semi-pro player and his brother Lee Tannehill had a ten-year career as an infielder for the Chicago White Sox.
Jesse Tannehill made his debut at age 19 as a long reliever for his hometown Cincinnati Reds in 1894. He went 1-1 with a save in five games, but his 7.14 ERA pointed to a need for more seasoning. He spent the next two years with the Richmond Bluebirds of the Virginia League, posting seasons of 22 and 27 wins to earn a second major-league look. The Pittsburgh Pirates purchased his contract for the 1897 season; he pitched 21 games with a record of 9-9, 4.25 and played 33 games in the outfield, batting .266 overall with 22 RBI. The Pirates considered making him a full-time outfielder, but thought better of it, although he would continue to play the occasional game in the outfield the rest of his career, compiling 87 games at that position in the major leagues, in addition to 57 appearances as a pinch-hitter. He hit .256 for his career - a good mark for the Deadball Era - with 5 home runs, an OPS+ of 89, and 19 stolen bases, including a steal of home accomplished as a pitcher.
Glory with the Pittsburgh Pirates
Tannehill had his breakout year for the 1898 Pirates, winning 25 games against 13 losses and posting a 3.57 ERA. He would win 20 or more games in three of the next four seasons for the Pirates, establishing himself as one of the top left-handed pitchers in baseball. His best weapon was a big slow curve ball and excellent control: his walk total went down each year from 63 in 1898 to 25 in 231 innings in 1902. With that control, he did not need to strike out a lot of batters to be successful, but he still had five consecutive seasons of over 100 strikeouts from 1901 to 1905, placing him year after year among the league leaders in strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 1901, he led the National league in ERA with a 2.18 mark, then lowered it to 1.95 the next season, but this was only good for third-best in the league. By 1902, Pittsburgh was the class of the National League, having withstood better than other teams the player raids form the emerging American League. Tannehill was part of a formidable pitching staff that also included future Hall of Famer Jack Chesbro, Deacon Phillippe, Sam Leever and Ed Doheny. However, there was some dissension on the team. Jack O'Connor approached Tannehill about jumping to the American League for $1,000. During a fight between Tannehill and Jimmy Burke, Jesse suffered a separated shoulder. The team doctor treated him with ether and under the drug's influence, Tannehill told owner Barney Dreyfuss about the offer from the American League. He told club management that O'Connor, himself, Tommy Leach, Lefty Davis, Wid Conroy and Jack Chesbro were all offered similar $1,000 deals. He, Chesbro and O'Connor all wound up jumping to the New York Highlanders.
As of 2006, Tannehill had the highest winning percentage (.667) among all Pirate pitchers with 100+ decisions. The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia ranked Tannehill as the 24th-best player in club history through 2002, 8th among pitchers.
American League Success
While teammate Jack Chesbro found immediate success in New York, Jesse Tannehill had more trouble adjusting. He did not like the cold winds that blew into Hilltop Park, where the Highlanders played their home games in 1903, and only posted a mediocre 15-15 record while clashing with manager Clark Griffith. He wanted to return to his hometown, but instead was traded to the Boston Americans for pitcher "Long" Tom Hughes, another malcontent who Boston manager Jimmy Collins suspected of having deliberately tried to throw Game 3 of the 1903 World Series. The trade turned out to be a steal for Boston: Hughes was railroaded out of New York before the end of the 1904 season, combining for an awful 9-24 record between New York and the Washington Senators, while Tannehill recorded the 5th 20-win season of his career for the Americans, finishing the year at 21-11 with a 2.04 ERA. On August 17, he pitched the third no-hitter in American League history, blanking Chicago (and his brother Lee) 6-0. The difference between Tannehill and Hughes was great enough to explain how Boston edged out New York by 1½ games to win the 1904 pennant.
Tannehill continued with his winning ways in 1905, even though the team was on a downward path. He had another 20-win season, leading the team with a 22-9 record with a 2.48 ERA. In 1906, Boston tumbled to last place and lost over 100 games, but Tannehill still managed a winning record, finishing at 13-11. He had battled a sore arm for a number of years then, but things got worse in 1907, and he only managed to win six games in 18 pitching appearances. After one start in 1908, he was traded to Washington, whose manager, Joe Cantillon, was a close friend. He liked the city, but two separate injuries limited him to a 2-4 record in 10 games. After only three games in 1909, the Senators gave up on him, sending him to the American Association's Minneapolis Millers.
The Downward Spiral
Jesse Tannehill at first refused to report to the minor leagues and spent the rest of the 1909 playing amateur baseball around Cincinnati. In 1910, Cantillon was appointed manager of the Millers, and Tannehill changed his mind, accepting to play in Minneapolis. He lasted 8 games before he was released due to persisting arm problems. After some months of rest, he signed a contract to pitch for the Cincinnati Reds in 1911. On opening day, he came on in relief and gave up seven runs in 4.1 innings of work as the Reds suffered a horrendous 14-0 loss. He asked for his release after the game, his last in the major leagues, but continued to play, appearing for the Birmingham Barons and Montgomery Billikens of the Southern Association that season. Giving up on pitching, he signed on with the South Bend Benders of the Central League to play the outfield in 1912. He batted .285 in 59 games, but he was released for promoting discord on the team. He also played for Chillicothe of the Ohio State League and the St. Joseph Drummers of the Western League before calling it a career.
- NL ERA Leader (1901)
- 20-Wins Seasons: 6 (1898-1900, 1902, 1904 & 1905)
- 25 Wins Seasons: 1 (1898)
- 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 8 (1898-1905)
- 300 Innings Pitched Seasons: 2 (1898 & 1899)
- David Finoli and Bill Rainer, The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia, Sports Publishing, LLC, 2003, pg. 287
- Nathaniel Staley: "Jesse Niles Tannehill", in David Jones, ed.: Deadball Stars of the American League, SABR, Potomac Books, Inc., Dulles, VA, 2006, pp. 430-431.