Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
| John Hendricks|
(photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame)
Long before the Colorado Rockies joined the National League, a whole host of teams from Denver graced several minor league circuits. In the first part of the 20th century, most of these teams played in the Western League. The best of the bunch won a pennant in 1911.
The city of Denver, located in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, fielded teams in two different leagues in the 19th century. In 1886, the city started out on top when a team known as the Mountain Lions finished atop the Western League with a 54-26 record. Over the next five seasons, the team finished well back in the standings except in 1888 when the Mountaineers went 18-6 in an abbreviated campaign. In 1895, Denver served as an intermediate stop for a sixth place Western Association franchise, which also played in Omaha and Dubuque.
Five years later, in 1900, a team called the Grizzlies joined a brand-new Western League and won the pennant with a 61-44 record. Over the next few years, the team fielded competitive nines, finishing two games back in 1902 and 3-˝ behind three years later. The club then bounced around in the middle of the pack until 1910 when the Grizzlies racked up 102 wins with a second place club. The next year, the team soared even higher.
After a slow start, the 1911 Grizzlies reached the top spot in June, never to relinquish the lead for the rest of the campaign. The team finished with a 111-54, .673 record, a comfortable 18 games ahead of St. Joseph. Showing a good mixture of speed and power, the Grizzlies topped the circuit in runs (890), triples (109) home runs (64) and stolen bases (353).
The team was managed by 36-year-old John Charles (Jack) Hendricks, a native of Joliet, IL, and a graduate of the Northwestern University Law School. He was admitted to the bar in 1897 and practiced law in the Chicago area when he wasn’t playing or managing. Hendricks reached the majors as an outfielder with the New York Giants, Chicago Cubs and Washington, batting .207 in 42 games in 1902-03. He piloted Springfield (OH) and Fort Wayne in the Central League from 1905-09. Hendricks came to Denver in 1910 and the Grizzlies jumped from sixth to second place in the Western League standings. His 1911 team was the first of three consecutive Denver pennant winners. In 1914 he moved up to Indianapolis and led the Indians to the American Association title in 1917. The new St. Louis Cardinals general manager, Branch Rickey, then signed Hendricks to a two-year contract to lead the National League club. In the war-shortened 1918 season, the Cardinals finished sixth. In September, Hendricks went to France as a secretary for the Knights of Columbus. When he returned to St. Louis during the winter, Jack discovered that Rickey had decided to manage the Cardinals in 1919 himself. The club paid Hendricks off for the year and he went back to Indianapolis where he managed the next five years. After the 1923 season he signed with Cincinnati as a coach.
However, at the start of spring training in 1924, Reds manager Pat Moran, who had led the team to the 1919 World Series championship, fell ill and died on March 7. “Genial Jack” was appointed to replace him. In his book “The Cincinnati Reds,” Lee Allen wrote that “Hendricks wasn’t a driving manager of the McGraw school and he assumed his players were intelligent enough to think for themselves. But his teams were aggressive and Jack had a remarkable memory for small details that often meant the difference between victory and defeat.” In his first three years at the helm, Cincinnati came in fourth, third and second. The 1926 Reds finished just two games behind the pennant-winning Cardinals. However, Cincinnati dropped to fifth place the next two years and when they fell to seventh in 1929, Hendricks resigned at the end of the season. He had a winning record with the Reds, 469-450, .510.
Denver’s leading hitter was outfielder Harry Cassady who batted .333, fourth in the Western League. (The name frequently appears as Cassidy and Total Baseball says the family name actually was Cassaday.) Cassady, 31, had played briefly for Pittsburgh in 1904 and Washington in 1905. He arrived in Denver in 1908 and was an outfield fixture for seven years. From 1908-13 he is credited with playing over 800 consecutive games. A perennial .300 hitter, he always was among the leaders in fielding as well.
As frequently happened in that era, the Grizzlies had a remarkably durable lineup. Denver played 169 games in 1911 and six men appeared in a minimum of 163 each. Cassady played in every game, shortstop Jack Coffey was in 168 games, third baseman Lee Quillen 166, outfielder Grover Gilmore 165, second baseman Davey Lloyd 164 and first baseman Chris Lindsay 163. There was little need for a Disabled List, even if such a thing existed in those days.
Jack Coffey, a native of New York City, was a graduate of Fordham University and went from the college campus to the Boston Braves in 1909, batting just .187 in 73 games. He once told the Sporting News that the season began “a prolonged series of peregrinations to points provincial” during his pro career. He was with Denver again in 1912-13 and when Hendricks left for Indianapolis in 1914, Coffey was named the Bears’ (as they were now called) playing manager. After finishing second in both 1914 and 1915, Coffey move on to Des Moines where he remained through 1921. He led Des Moines to the pennant in 1917. When the Western League suspended operations July 7, 1918 because of the federal government’s “work or fight” order, Coffey returned to the majors briefly, batting .189 in 37 games for the Tigers and Red Sox. The Sporting News said Coffey once remarked that “not many players can say they were teammates of Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth in the same year.” In 1922 Coffey was appointed head baseball coach at Fordham, and in 1926 added the duties of graduate manager of athletics, holding both positions until his retirement in 1959 at the age of 72. During his tenure the Rams produced 23 major league players, most notably Yankee pitchers Johnny Murphy and Hank Borowy, and first basemen Buddy Hassett and Babe Young.
| Buck O'Brien|
(photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame)
Denver’s best pitcher was Thomas Joseph (Buck) O’Brien who won 26 and lost 7 for a league-leading .788 percentage. He also led the league in strikeouts with 261 and trailed Henry Chellette of St. Joseph by only one for the lead in wins. O’Brien, a 29-year-old native of Brockton, MA, broke into pro ball with his hometown team in the New England League. In 1910 the right-handed spitball pitcher won 29 and lost 10 for Hartford, leading the Connecticut League in strikeouts (261) and was sold to the Boston Red Sox. Boston loaned him to Denver for the 1911 season. He made his major league debut September 9 and in the closing days of the campaign won 5 and lost 1 with two shutouts and a 0.38 ERA. In 1912 O’Brien became the answer to a trivia question - who was the starting pitcher for Boston in the first American League game the Red Sox played in Fenway Park? On April 20, the Red Sox beat New York 7-6 in 11 innings although O’Brien was not around at the finish. He went on to post a 20-13, 2.58 record in helping Boston to the pennant. In the World Series, he lost the third game to the Giants and Rube Marquard, 2-1. Four days later, in New York, O’Brien and Marquard again were the starters. This time, however, Buck faced only eight batters in the first inning, giving up five runs on six hits, and committing a balk, and was lifted. New York won 5-2.
In their book “Boston Century” Glenn Stout and Richard Johnson state that Red Sox manager Jake Stahl had planned to start Boston’s ace, Smoky Joe Wood, but owner Jim McAleer ordered him to use O’Brien instead. McAleer wanted Wood to pitch the next day at Fenway in hopes of attracting a capacity crowd. “Joe Wood’s brother Paul seethed as he watched O’Brien warm up. Certain his brother would pitch, he’d already bet the Red Sox to win. Rumor had it that O’Brien, oblivious to his assignment, had been out late the night before, drinking himself into a stupor. After the game, on the train back to Boston, Paul Wood, enraged at losing one hundred dollars on the game, sought out O’Brien and blackened one of his eyes in a wild fistfight.” The next day, before the game, “Joe Wood verbally abused O’Brien in the runway leading from the clubhouse to the field, then assaulted him, reportedly beating him with a baseball bat. Teammates pulled the men apart.” Boston did go on to win the series, four games to three. After the Series, O’Brien and three players “hit the vaudville circuit as “The Red Sox Quartette.’ They toured the far reaches of New England singing popular hits and ‘The Ballad of Buck O’Brien, the Spit Ball Artist.’” In 1913, O’Brien got off to a bad start. Opposing batters apparently had solved his spitball delivery and, as Fred Lieb wrote in “The Boston Red Sox,” Buck “wouldn’t stay in condition.” He was 4-9, 3.69 when he was sold to the White Sox. For Chicago he was even more ineffective, 0-2, 3.93 in 6 games and was released. After pitching for six minor league teams in the next two seasons, he left baseball. O’Brien’s name popped up decades later. He died in 1959, having resided in the Boston area all his life. In 1962, when the Red Sox celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Fenway Park, O’Brien’s grandson, also nicknamed Buck, threw out the ceremonial first ball.
Several other Grizzlies played in the majors either before or after 1911. 29-year-old third baseman Lee Quillen was with the White Sox in 1906-07, batting .200 in 53 games. He played for Minneapolis (American Association) before coming to Denver in 1910. In 1951, when veteran Des Moines Register sports editor Sec Taylor, for whom the stadium where the Iowa Cubs now play is named, selected a Western League All-Star team for the first half of the 20th century, he picked Quillen as his third baseman. Chris (Pinky) Lindsay, 32, had been Detroit’s regular first baseman in the second half of 1905 and all of 1906, batting .242 in 229 games. 30-year-old Fred Olmstead, another right-handed spitball pitcher, came to Denver in mid-season from the White Sox, for whom he pitched in 1909-10-11 with a 19-20, 2.74 record. In 1912 at Minneapolis he was 28-10, leading the American Association in wins. Zerah Zequiel (Rip) Hagerman, a 29-year-old right-hander, pitched for the Cubs in 1909 and for Cleveland in 1914-15 with a 19-33, 3.09 record. Ed Kinsella, another 29-year-old right-hander, pitched briefly for Pittsburgh in 1905 and the Browns in 1910, going 1-4, 3.49. Johnny Beall, 29-year-old outfielder who was Denver’s second best hitter (.320), played briefly for the Indians, White Sox, Reds and Cardinals in 1913, 1915-16 and 1918, batting .253 in 58 games.
Three of the Grizzlies were teammates on the Kansas City Packers of the Federal League in 1914-15, pitcher Ben Harris, outfielder Grover Gilmore and outfielder-pitcher Duke Kenworthy. Gilmore hit .287 and .285 in 258 games in his two years with the Packers. Harris was 7-7, 4.09 in 1914 and pitched only one inning the next season. Neither ever played in the American or National Leagues. Kenworthy batted .237 in 12 games for Washington in 1912. He then switched to second base where he played the rest of his career. With the Kansas City Feds he hit .317 in 1914 and .298 in 1915. He played and managed in the Pacific Coast League from 1916-1924 except for five games with the St. Louis Browns in 1917.
Kenworthy was at the center of two highly publicized incidents in the PCL’s stormy decade of the 1920s. At the end of the 1921 season, Duke was managing Seattle whose president and part-owner was Bill Klepper, one of the most controversial characters in the league’s history. In October, 1921, Klepper and two partners purchased the Portland franchise. In his book “Barbary Baseball, The Pacific Coast League of the 1920s,” Scott Mackey describes Klepper as “paunchy and garrulous…Sometimes he played a little fast and loose.” He made Portland fans several promises, none of which panned out. “What really landed Klepper in hot water was the hiring of Seattle player-manager Bill Kenworthy. He lured Kenworthy away from Seattle and signed him to a Portland contract. This outraged (James) Boldt (Seattle’s majority owner) who claimed that Kenworthy had violated his contract with Seattle and that Klepper had tampered in the matter. Kenworthy argued that his contract had a clause making him a free agent if he was not satisfied with the terms of the 1922 contract.” The dispute soon reached Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who found enough evidence to suspend Klepper until January 1, 1925. Landis also declared Kenworthy ineligible to manage or play for Portland until 1924. Klepper, however, continued to run the Beavers behind the scenes. Kenworthy finally got to manage Portland in 1924, replacing pitcher-manager Jim Middleton who was very popular. Mackey says, “Kenworthy failed to generate the support from the players that Middleton enjoyed. As a result, Kenworthy was fired during the summer.” However, during the time he was piloting the Beavers, he made some news on the field. As related by Dick Dobbins in “Nuggets on the Diamond,” “In 1924 a grudge developed between Seals third baseman Eddie Mulligan and Duke Kenworthy, Portland player-manager. Mulligan slid into second base with Kenworthy covering. Mulligan’s cleats caught Kenworthy on the leg and he reacted by swatting Mulligan on the ear. Mulligan jumped up and landed a right cross to Kenworthy’s jaw and Duke went down like a rock. Kenworthy (Ed. Note - who outweighed Mulligan by 20 pounds) was embarrassed by this incident and vowed revenge, but not on Mulligan.” Duke’s target was Mulligan’s teammate and lifelong friend Dee Walsh. Kenworthy had been told Walsh had hit him while he was down. The next year, Duke was out of baseball, living in Oakland, and Walsh was playing for Portland. When Portland came to Oakland, Kenworthy was waiting for him one afternoon outside the clubhouse. Duke “challenged Walsh and punched him in the face. Walsh retreated to the clubhouse and came out with a bat. The bat was wrestled away by bystanders and a scuffle ensued. Kenworthy had regained his dignity.”
Denver followed up the 1911 championship with impressive flags in 1912 (99-63) and 1913 (104-61). Seven players were with all three of the pennant winners: Cassaday, Coffey, Quillen, Lindsay, Gilmore, catcher Larry Spahr and pitcher Barney Schreiber. The team would have to wait almost 40 years for its next flag, which came in 1952, followed by a playoff championship in 1954. The next year, Denver jumped to the Class AAA American Association. Here, the renamed Bears met with more success, winning titles in 1957, 1971, 1977 and 1980, with the latter receiving inclusion in the Top 100. In 1993, the Bears were replaced by the National League Rockies who remain to this day.
The 1911 Western League champions finished on top with one of the best teams of this or any era. Not only did the ’11 Grizzlies have the best record of any Denver team in history, they also set a league mark. In the more than 50-year history of the Western League, no other club has been able to match Denver’s 111 wins or .673 winning percentage.
|1911 Western League Standings|
|1911 Denver Grizzlies batting statistics|
|Walter Frambes (Topeka)||C||79||256||37||73||24||9||7||2||5||.285|
|Freg Ehman (Lincoln)||P||38||100||15||19||8||5||0||1||3||.190|
|1911 Denver Grizzlies pitching statistics|
|Freg Ehman (Lincoln)||14||12||.538||37||58||110|