Tommy Leach

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Tommy Leach.jpg

Thomas William Leach
(Wee)

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 6½", Weight 150 lb.

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Biographical Information[edit]

Tommy Leach was a top star in the National League during the Deadball Era. He led his leagues in runs, triples and home runs and was among the era leaders in many departments. The third baseman-outfielder helped his teams win four NL pennants and one World Series. He had the first hit and first run in World Series history. He holds the record for triples in a World Series and for fewest home runs by a league leader. He had the third-most inside-the-park home runs in major league history. He later was a scout and minor league manager, guiding his teams to two pennants.

Early life and minors[edit]

Leach was born in French Creek, New York, but moved to Cleveland at age five. There, his family was neighbors of the Delahanty family. His father said that if Ed Delahanty could become a baseball star, so could Tommy. [1] Working as a printer's devil while starting his baseball career, Leach began his pro career in 1896. [2] That summer, he played for the Hanover Tigers (18 R in 37 G) and Petersburg Farmers/Hampton Clamdiggers (.250/?/.390 in 36 G) (his biography in Deadball Stars of the National League only lists Petersburg, so perhaps he was not with them for their Hampton stint).

He spent 1897 with the Youngstown Puddlers. In 1898, he starred for the Auburn Maroons, hitting .325 and scoring 85 runs in 97 games. He led the New York State League in both runs and homers (5, tied with Jimmy Barrett). He was sent to the New York Giants but Andrew Freedman returned him without playing in a game, saying "Taking your boy back before he gets hurt. We don't take midgets on the Giants." Turning down the 5' 6", 135-pound (he would be listed later at 150 lb.) Leach would hurt New York plenty in the 1900s as he would help Pittsburgh beat them numerous times. Barney Dreyfuss of Louisville was more interested and purchased his contract for $650 for the Colonels. [3] He also had an offer from the Washington Nationals and his minor league manager let him pick which team he wanted to sign with. [4]

Louisville[edit]

Tommie (as he signed his name, though the record books list him as Tommy) was 1 for 10 for the Colonels in 1898 and had 3 errors in 12 chances in an inauspicious start in the majors. After making five errors in his first game in 1899, he was farmed out to the Worcester Farmers. [5] While he was only 5 for 24 for Worcester, he was called back up and would spend the next 16 seasons in the major leagues.

He hit .288/.349/.379 with 75 runs in 106 games for the 1899 Colonels, for a 99 OPS+. He fielded .908 in 80 games at third base but only .840 in 25 at SS (the 1899 NL average there was .910). He was the 10th-hardest hitter to fan in the 1899 NL and led third basemen in range factor/game (4.19, .07 ahead of Lave Cross). After the season, Dreyfuss bought the Pittsburgh Pirates and sent Louisville's main players all to Pittsburgh, trading Leach, Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke, Claude Ritchey, Chief Zimmer, Deacon Phillippe, Tacks Latimer, Patsy Flaherty, Rube Waddell, Walt Woods, Icebox Chamberlain and Mike Kelley to Pittsburgh for Jack Chesbro, George Fox, Art Madison, John O'Brien and $25,000. When the league contracted to 8 teams, Louisville folded and Chesbro rejoined Pittsburgh. [6]

Pittsburgh[edit]

Leach did not find a job right away in the Steel City, unlike Wagner, Clarke, Ritchey, Zimmer, Phillippe and Waddell, as third base was manned by Jimmy Williams, who had hit .354 with 27 triples as a rookie the prior year. Leach hit only .213/.304/.263 in 51 games (57 OPS+) in 1900 and fielded .864 at third. He also backed up Bones Ely at short and Ritchey at second. When Williams jumped to the new American League in 1901, though, a spot opened up for Leach.

He made the most of his opportunity, hitting .305/.347/.422 with 13 triples for the Pirates in 1901 while fielding .903 at the hot corner (the 1901 NL fielded .888 there). Despite only ranking fifth in the NL in games at third (92), he was 3rd in assists (196). Only Sammy Strang had a better range factor that year in the NL. He helped Pittsburgh win its first NL pennant. That year, he also played a role in Wagner becoming a shortstop. When Ely left for the AL during the season, player-manager Clarke wanted Wagner to take over, but he wanted to man third base instead. Clarke told Leach he would have Wagner play third for a week with Leach at short. Leach was to tell Wagner how he felt he couldn't cover as much ground as Wagner could. He would say "Dutch, balls are going through me that you would gobble up. I'm only a runt and belong on third, a position I know how to play, but you are big and fast and you'd make a heck of a shortstop. Suppose I tell Fred Clarke we want to shift." [7]

Leach accepted an offer to jump to the AL himself in 1902 but later returned the check and re-signed with Pittsburgh. [8] He kept on improving in 1902, hitting .278/.341/.426 with 97 runs, 85 RBI, 25 steals, 22 triples and 6 home runs. He led the 1902 NL in home runs, the lowest total to lead a major league in the 20th Century. [9] Some sources say all his homers were inside-the-park that year while others say most were. Leach recalled: "The outfielders would play well back for hitters such as Wagner and Clarke, whereas they would play me, a real little guy, real close. Sometimes, they'd play for me right in back of the infield. Every so often, I'd manage to drive a ball between the outfielders and it would roll to the fence. I was pretty fast, and by the time they ran the ball down and got it back to the infield, I'd scooted around the bases." [10] He edged Jake Beckley for the home run title by one. It would be over 40 years before another Pirate, Ralph Kiner, led the league in dingers. Leach also played other roles in helping Pittsburgh to its best record ever (through 2017). He was second in Wins Above Replacement by a position player (6.0, 1.1 behind Wagner, .9 ahead of teammate Ginger Beaumont and Fred Tenney), tied Sam Crawford for offensive wins above replacement (4.7), first in defensive wins above replacement (1.8, .1 ahead of Joe Tinker), 7th in total WAR (pitchers ranked highly in those days), 5th in slugging (between Beckley and Beaumont), 8th in OPS (between Heinie Peitz and Wee Willie Keeler), 4th in runs (between Beaumont and Crawford), 5th in total bases (219, between Beaumont and Keeler), tied Crawford for the most three-baggers, second to Wagner in RBI by 6, 9th in walks (45, between Crawford and Shad Barry), 7th in OPS+ (134, between Beckley and Jimmy Slagle), 4th in extra-base hits (42), led in assists at third (316, one ahead of Harry Steinfeldt), second in range factor at third (behind Steinfeldt) and third in fielding percentage at third (.926, behind Ed Gremminger and Charlie Irwin).

The New York native put up similar offensive numbers in 1903 - .298/.352/.438, 17 3B, 7 HR, 22 SB, another 97 R, 87 RBI, 121 OPS+. His defense fell significantly as he went from 39 errors to 65. He tied Wagner for 8th in the 1903 NL in runs, was 8th in total bases (222, between Sam Mertes and George Browne), was 3rd in triples (behind Wagner and Mike Donlin), tied for second in home runs in coming close to a repeat title (two behind Jimmy Sheckard), ranked 4th in RBI (between Jack Doyle and Steinfeldt) and led in range factor per game at 3B (3.70, .01 ahead of Greeminger) but was 4th in errors regardless of position and easily led in errors at third (28 ahead of Strang). Despite battling a finger injury, had the first base hit ever in the World Series, a triple against the legendary Cy Young in the 1st inning of Game 1 of the 1903 World Series played in Boston. It was a long fly to right that fell into the roped-off crowd for a ground-rule triple. He came in to score the first World Series run on Wagner's single. [11] He finished the day 4 for 5 with two triples, a run and a RBI. He hit .273/.294/.515 with 4 triples and 7 RBI in the 8-game Series, though the Bucs fell to Boston. Only Jimmy Sebring had a better OPS among Pittsburgh's starters and he led the first World Series in RBI (two ahead of Patsy Dougherty; the record stood through the entire Deadball era - though Clarke, Home Run Baker and Edd Roush would tie it - and not fall until Bob Meusel broke it 20 years later). His four triples, on the other hand, remains a record through 2017. In fact, it is also still tied for the World Series career record - Tris Speaker and Billy Johnson having matched him. [12]

Leach got a chance to manage the Pirates in 1904 when Clarke suffered a spike wound that kept him away for six weeks; Wagner had turned down the offer before Leach accepted it. [13] He improved his fielding from .879 to .907 but still made 60 errors and his offense was down (.257/.316/.335, 99 OPS+) though he still had 23 steals, 12 triples and 92 runs. He tied Roy Thomas for 5th in the 1904 NL in runs scored, was 8th with 149 hits, tied for 6th in triples, was 5th in errors (regardless of position), led third basemen in games (146), putouts (212), assists (371) and errors, easily led in range factor at third (3.99 per game, .62 ahead of Jim Delahanty), was back to the middle of the pack in fielding percentage at the hot corner (4th) and (thanks to his range) was 4th in defensive wins above replacement regardless of position (1.9, between Johnny Evers and Art Devlin).

Tommy hit .257/.309/.345 for a 93 OPS+ in 1905. He suffered a serious injury on his own that year. On a bunt, he nearly made it around the bases when Beckley threw the ball away; Beckley got it back and instead of trying to throw again, raced Leach home. As Beckley dove head-first to the plate, Leach slid in. In the collision with the larger player, Leach broke two ribs. He could not throw as well when he returned and moved to the outfield, where he did well (11 A, 2 E). He would eventually move full-time to the outfield. [14] He tied for 7th in the 1905 NL with 14 triples, making far fewer leader boards than in the past.

In 1906, Leach rebounded and had a batting line of .286/.333/.342 (107 OPS+) while splitting his time fairly evenly between third and the outfield. He was the hardest batter in the 1906 NL to strike out - with 19 K, he only whiffed every 25.1 AB. He had his best OPS+ (136) in 1907, producing at a .303/.352/.404 clip with 43 steals, 12 triples and 102 runs while playing primarily center field after Beaumont had moved to Boston. He was 4th in the 1907 NL in average (between Beaumont and Cy Seymour), 6th in slugging (between Dave Brain and Seymour), 6th in OPS (between Strang and Frank Chance), 2nd in runs (two behind Spike Shannon), 3rd in hits (166, behind Beaumont and Wagner), 4th with 221 total bases (between Sherry Magee and Brain), tied for 6th in triples, tied for 6th in homers (4), 4th in steals (behind Wagner, Evers and Magee), 8th in OPS+ (between Strang and Brain), 5th in sacrifice hits (29), 4th in Offensive Wins Above Replacement (4.9, behind Wagner, Magee and Beaumont), easily led in Range Factor in his first season predominately as an outfielder (2.69 per game, .23 ahead of Billy Maloney), 3rd in Wins Above Replacement by a Position Player (5.4, trailing only Wagner and Magee) and 7th in Wins Above Replacement (between Orval Overall and Evers). In the off-season, Leach was making a good living selling automobiles. [15]

The Cincinnati Reds tried to lure him away as player-manager but could not work out trade details with the Pirates. The veteran hit .259/.324/.381 in 1908 but that was the peak of the Deadball Era so his OPS+ was still very good at 125. He legged out 16 triples, swiped 24 bases, drew 54 walks and scored 93 times. He was the regular third baseman for the last time of his career and fielded .937 there. He was on the 1908 NL leader boards in numerous areas: runs (3rd behind Tenney and Wagner), hits (151, 8th, between John Titus and Tenney), total bases (222, 5th, between Hans Lobert and Tinker), doubles (24, tied for 9th with Titus), triples (tied for 3rd with Magee), home runs (5, tied for 6th with Ed Konetchy and Seymour), walks (tied for 10th with Wagner), extra-base hits (45, tied for 3rd with Donlin), sacrifice hits (27, 10th), Wins Above Replacement for a position player (4.8, 9th, between Clarke and Magee) and fielding percentage at 3B (3rd, behind Devlin and Steinfeldt). Tragically, though, he lost his first wife to pneumonia. [16]

Leach was a big part of the fourth Pirate pennant-winner of the 1900s just as he had been the first three. He had a batting line of .261/.337/.368 in 1909 for a 115 OPS+, 66 walks, 27 steals, 29 doubles, 8 triples, 6 home runs and 126 runs while moving full-time to center field. He led the 1909 NL easily in runs (29 ahead of runner-up Clarke), tied Dick Hoblitzell for 6th in total bases (216), tied Sheckard for 4th in doubles, tied Doyle and Beals Becker for 2nd in home runs (one behind Red Murray, Tommy's third time in the top two), tied for 6th in walks), was 5th in extra-base hits (43), led in put-outs in center (331, 3 ahead of Solly Hofman), tied for first with 4 double plays from center field and led center fielders in both range factor and fielding percentage (edging out Beaumont, who had previously held the job in Pittsburgh). He was going bald by this point and shaved his head prior to the 1909 World Series. To try to publicly embarrass him, Detroit Tigers third baseman George Moriarty yanked off his cap during the Series. [17] As in 1903, he again shone in the Series. He hit .360/.429/.520 with 8 runs in 7 games as Pittsburgh won their first Series. He led the team in average (.027 ahead of Wagner) and runs (one ahead of Clarke). In Game 7, he was 2 for 3 with a walk and two runs.

His hitting fell off in 1910 - .270/.319/.357 for a 92 OPS+. He scored 83 runs but did not make the 1910 NL top ten in any positive offensive department (he made it in strikeouts for the only time in his career). Defensively, he was still sharp. He led NL center fielders in putouts (352), was second in range factor (just behind Dode Paskert) and third in fielding percentage (behind Hofman and Fred Beck).

1911 was a terrible year for Leach. He lost his second wife to illness (his third wife, though, would outlive him, after having being a widower twice in four years). Less importantly, he had his worst year as a starter in baseball and battled injuries on the field. [18] He hit .238/.323/.324 for a 78 OPS+. His .987 fielding percentage was the best of starting center fielders in the 1911 NL. He opened 1912 by hitting .299/.376/.381 (107 OPS+) with 24 runs in 28 games for the Pirates, looking to have bounced back. He was then traded with Lefty Leifield to the Chicago Cubs for Hofman and King Cole; there was speculation that dispute over whether Wagner or Leach would succeed Clarke as Pittsburgh's manager led to his trade. [19]

Chicago, Cincinnati[edit]

He fell to .242/.378/.325 (94 OPS+) in 82 games for the 1912 Cubs, playing for his long-time rivals. Despite only being 4th among 1912 NL center fielders in games played, he tied Vin Campbell for the most double plays there (7), led in range factor and would have led in fielding percentage had he qualified.

Wee Tommy showed he was not washed up at age 35. He had one of his best seasons in 1913. He hit .287/.391/.421 for a 132 OPS+, with 77 walks, 21 steals in 31 tries, 10 triples, 6 home runs, 99 runs and fielded .990 in center to boot with 15 assists to 3 errors. He made the 1913 NL leaderboards in OBP (5th, between Jim Viox and Johnny Bates), OPS (8th, between Viox and Red Smith), runs (tied for the lead with Max Carey, his successor in center for Pittsburgh), walks (3rd, behind Bob Bescher and Miller Huggins), OPS+ (8th, between Jake Daubert and Tinker), Offensive Wins Above Replacement (3.8, 8th, between Magee and Daubert), double plays in center (5, 2nd, 3 behind Paskert), fielding percentage in CF (1st, .018 ahead of Paskert), fielding percentage in the OF (.008 ahead of Magee) and Wins Above Replacement by a Position Player (4.0, tied for 5th with Daubert).

He had his last strong season in 1914, hitting .263/.353/.373 (117 OPS+) with 9 triples, 79 walks and 80 runs. He was 10th in the 1914 NL in runs, 10th in hits (152), 10th in total bases (215), tied Fred Merkle and Smith for 9th in home runs (7, league home run numbers starting to rise as the Deadball Era was winding down), 6th in walks (79, between Gavvy Cravath and Heinie Groh), led in CF putouts (320, one ahead of Joe Kelly), led in CF double plays (7), edged Bescher for the best fielding percentage in CF (.968) and was second to Paskert in range factor/game in the outfield. One of the ten youngest players in MLB when he first came up, he was now the 6th-oldest in the NL (two of those ahead of him were Clarke and Wagner, the rest of Pittsburgh's big three on offense in the 1900s). That year, he also bought citrus property in Haines City, FL and would spend his non-baseball life there. [20]

Leach was the third-oldest player in the 1915 NL behind none other than Clarke and Wagner. Let go by Chicago before the season, he joined the Cincinnati Reds 7 years after they had first sought his services. He was showing his age, unlike the prior year, and hit .224/.338/.275 (84 OPS+) in 1915. He still drew 56 walks to tie George Burns for 10th in the league.

Winding down[edit]

Returning to the minors for the first time in 17 years, he signed with the Rochester Hustlers as player-manager and hit .244/~.353/.359 and was still fleet enough to leg out 11 triples and steal 17 bases. He tied for third in the 1916 IL in triples and just missed the top ten in walks. [21] He batted .244 and slugged .345 for the Kansas City Blues in the 1917 American Association.

He spent most of 1918 with the Chattanooga Lookouts (.291/?/.357 in 67 G) but got another look at the majors with World War I depleting the leagues of some of their regulars. [22] He got on base at a good clip for the 1918 Pirates (.194/.363/.306 in 94 PA over 30 G), producing a 101 OPS+ despite being the second-oldest player in the 1918 NL (Bobby Wallace got into 32 games but did not hit nearly as well as Leach). It was Leach's last time in the majors.

Returning to the minors in 1919 with the Shreveport Gassers, the 41-year-old batted .265 and slugged .351. In 1920, he was player-manager of the Tampa Smokers, guiding them to the Florida State League title while still hitting .283/?/.417 in 47 games. Despite his age, he had the best slugging percentage on a team with three future major leaguers. He hit even better, though in less time, at age 43 in 1921 (.388/?/.551) while Tampa fell to 2nd. In his third year as player-manager, he hit .326 and slugged .609 in 20 games though the team was under .500. He went out as a player on a high note.

Managing and Scouting[edit]

Leach was done as a player but remained a manager in the FSL, taking over the Lakeland Highlanders in 1923. He led them to a 60-55 record, good for third place, then piloted them to a title and a 69-31 record in 1924. In 1926, he returned to the helm of the Smokers during the season and remained there through 1927. He guided the Fort Lauderdale Tarpons/St. Petersburg Saints in 1928 and had them at 38-23 when the FSL disbanded.

He scouted for the Boston Braves from 1935-1941. [23]

Career Synopsis[edit]

Leach, although not a Hall of Famer, was a major star of his time. He had a Gray Ink score of 118 (144 is the average Hall of Famer score).

He ranks among the Pirates' career leaders in numerous categories. As of 2018, he was tied with Bill Mazeroski for 11th in Wins Above Replacement by a Bucco position player (36.5) - of the players higher, the only ones not in the Hall of Fame are Barry Bonds (due to steroids) and Andrew McCutchen (still active). He was 14th in offensive Wins Above Replacement (between Jason Kendall and Brian Giles), tied Rabbit Maranville for 15th in Defensive Wins Above Replacement (8.2), 9th in games played (1,574, between Lloyd Waner and Clarke), 9th in runs (1,009, between Clarke and Arky Vaughan), 11th in hits (1,603, between Clarke and Al Oliver), 15th in total bases (2,202, between Kiner and Gus Suhr) despite playing his career in the Deadball Era, 7th in triples (139, between Carey and Vaughan), 16th in RBI (625, between Bob Elliott and Clarke), 14th in walks (516, between Giles and George Grantham), 5th in steals (271, behind Carey, Wagner, Omar Moreno and Patsy Donovan), tied Clarke for 4th with 196 sacrifice hits, 19th in extra-base hits (374, between Kevin Young and Giles) and 12th in times on base (2,143, between McCutchen and Suhr). [24] Pie Traynor rated him as the best third baseman in Pirates history. [25] David Finoli ranks him as the 27th-best Pirate through 2015, between Beaumont and Oliver. [26] The main part of our Baseball-Reference.com site lists him as the 15th-greatest Pirate, between McCutchen and Mazeroski. [27]

Leach had a long life, living over 90 years. Although he first played major league ball in 1898, he lived long enough to see all of the career of Mickey Mantle. He was the last surviving Pirates player of the first World Series (only Boston's Freddy Parent outlived him among all players). [28]

In the first 15 years of the 20th Century, he was 4th in hits with 2,011, behind only Sam Crawford, Wagner and Nap Lajoie, all easy picks for Cooperstown. He was also 9th in homers (57), 3rd in triples (163), 3rd in runs (1,266), 10th in steals (340) and 9th in RBI (748). [29] In the Deadball Era, he was third in the NL in games played (1,996, behind Wagner and Magee), second to only Wagner in runs, 3rd in hits (behind Wagner and Magee) and 3rd in triples (trailing Wagner and Magee). [30]

Through June of 2018, he is tied with Ty Cobb for 3rd in inside-the-park home runs (49, 6 behind Jesse Burkett, 3 behind Crawford), 168th in MLB history in games played (2,156), 155th in at-bats (7,959, between Dale Murphy and Enos Slaughter), tied with Barry Larkin for 153rd in plate appearances (9,057), tied with Phil Cavarretta and Ray Durham for 238th in walks (820), 46th in sacrifice hits (240), tied with Matt Holliday for 206th in times on base (2,995), 102nd in steals (361), 138th in singles (1,642, between Carlos Beltran and Lou Whitaker), tied for 23rd in triples (172, even with Zack Wheat), tied with Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Boyer for 206th in hits (2,143) and tied with Larry Walker for 108th in runs (1,355). On defense, he is 80th in range factor/game in the outfield (2.485, between Andruw Jones and Bernie Williams), 6th in range factor/game at 3B (3.613, between Ned Williamson and Jimmy Collins), 18th in double plays by a CF (32), tied with Joe Birmingham and Nemo Leibold for 44th in assists by a center fielder (95), in the top 100 in counting stats for both 3B and CF and tied for 217th in Wins Above Replacement by a position player (47.0, even with Joe Judge and Art Fletcher). [31] Leach is the all-time leader in triples by a third baseman. [32] Bill James rated him (in 2000) as the 20th-best third baseman in MLB history, between Buddy Bell and Groh.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 2-time NL Runs Scored Leader (1909 & 1913)
  • NL Triples Leader (1902)
  • NL Home Runs Leader (1902)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 2 (1907 & 1909)
  • Won a World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1909

Sources[edit]

  1. Deadball Stars of the National League ed. by Tom Simon, pg. 157 (the article on Leach is by Mark Armour)
  2. ibid.
  3. ibid.
  4. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract by Bill James, pg. 556
  5. Deadball Stars of the National League, pg. 157
  6. The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia by David Finoli and Bill Ranier, pg. 6
  7. Baseball's 25 Greatest Teams by Lowell Reidenbaugh, pg. 156
  8. The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia, pg. 290
  9. Great Baseball Feats, Facts& Firsts by David Nemec, 1999 edition, pg. 262
  10. Baseball's 25 Greatest Teams, pg. 156
  11. The First World Series by Roger Abrams, pg. 29
  12. World Series records at main B-R page
  13. Deadball Stars of the National League, pg. 158
  14. Deadball Stars of the National League, pg. 158
  15. The Unforgettable Season by G.H. Fleming, pg. 230
  16. Deadball Stars of the National League, pg. 158
  17. Deadball Stars of the National League, pg. 158
  18. Deadball Stars of the National League, pg. 158
  19. ibid.
  20. Deadball Stars of the National League, pg. 158
  21. The International League: Year-by-Year Statistics by Marshall Wright, pg. 194-198
  22. The 50 Greatest Players in Pittsburgh Pirates History by David Finoli, pg. 175
  23. Deadball Stars of the National League, pg. 158
  24. Main B-R site
  25. The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia, pg. 291
  26. The 50 Greatest Players in Pittsburgh Pirates History, pg. 173
  27. B-R Pirates franchise top 24 as of 6/6/18
  28. Deadball Stars of the National League, pg. 158
  29. The 50 Greatest Players in Pittsburgh Pirates History, pg. 173
  30. Deadball Stars of the National League, pg. 16
  31. Main BR site
  32. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, pg. 544

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