Top 100 Teams
International League (Triple-A)
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
For seven years in a row, from 1919-1925, the Baltimore Orioles had ruled the International League roost. In 1920, a Toronto club came within an eyelash of beating the champions. Six years later, a different Maple Leaf team finally overthrew the Orioles. Buried in the depths of the pitching staff was a young hurler who would become one of the finest pitchers in baseball history.
The city of Toronto, located in the Canadian province of Ontario, fielded its first champion in 1887 in its second year in the International League. This team, known as the Canucks, won the flag by three games over the Buffalo Bisons. Featured on this championship nine was a hard-throwing pitcher named Ed (Cannonball) Crane. In addition to his 33-13 record, Crane was to play several games in the outfield, earning enough at-bats to take home the batting crown with a lofty .428 average. (Note: in most professional leagues in 1887, walks were counted as hits, thus inflating the batting averages).
Toronto’s next championship came in 1902, seven years after the team rejoined the league, now called the Eastern League. This team also beat out Buffalo, this time by the razor-thin margin of .007 percentage points, earning a place among the Top 100 teams.
Five years later, Toronto won its next flag. The team accomplished the feat the hard way, rebounding from a last place finish in 1906. This team featured the batting champion, Jack Thoney (.329) and 20-gamewinner Jim McGinley (22-10).
In 1917, under the management of a future Hall-of-Famer, the Maple Leafs won their next pennant. Now playing in the renamed International League, Toronto was led by player-manager Nap Lajoie, who split time between second and first. Playing in his first minor league season following an illustrious 21-year major league career, Lajoie hit a league-best .380, helping his team win the first pennant in his career.
The following season and again in 1920, Toronto won enough games each season to place both entries on the Top 100 list. The difference between the two was that the 1918 version won the pennant while the 1920 team finished in second - just behind the Baltimore juggernaut.
During the time the Orioles were dominating the league, the Maple Leafs also fielded several competitive teams. It was to no avail. Although Toronto averaged 92 wins a season from 1919-25, that fell hopelessly behind Baltimore’s 111 victories each year. In 1926, this would change.
After finishing a close second to Baltimore again in 1925, Toronto owner Lou Solman abandoned the old park on Hanlan’s Island and built a new $750,000 structure on the mainland, at the foot of Bathhurst St. on land owned by the Toronto Harbor Commission. Maple Leaf Stadium, seating 20,000, was billed as the most modern facility in the minors. Opening day was rained out, and the next day’s weather wasn’t much better - 33 degrees and drizzling - but over 14,000 fans showed up. The Leafs got off to a bad start, falling behind Reading 5-0, but rallied with five runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game and won it in the tenth on Del Capes’ perfect squeeze bunt. The game was a foretaste of things to come. Toronto went on to win the pennant, Reading finished last with one of the worst records in baseball history, 31-129, .194, 75 games behind the Maple Leafs and 38-½ games in back of seventh-place Syracuse. The Keystones endured losing streaks of 13, 15 and 23 games during the season.
The Maple Leafs resided in second place until August, then went on a blistering 37-6 run to close the season, leaving Baltimore in the dust. Toronto finished with a 109-57, .657 record, eight games better than Baltimore. The Leafs led the league in batting (.308), while scoring 932 runs. They were second in fielding (.975), just .0006 points behind Baltimore. In the Junior World Series, the Maple Leafs downed American Association champion Louisville, five games to none. At the box office, the team drew 221,846, a Toronto record that stood for 22 years.
The 1926 Leafs were managed by 40-year-old Dapper Dan Howley, who led Toronto to a Top 100 pennant in 1918. He left in 1919 to coach Detroit and returned to the helm of the Maple Leafs in 1923. In 1927 he went back to the majors to manage the St. Louis Browns and Cincinnati Reds. Howley had two more tours of duty with Toronto, in 1933 and 1937-38. He recorded more wins, 644, than any other Toronto manager and is a member of the International League Hall of Fame.
The best batting average on the Maple Leafs belonged to third baseman Billy Mullen, who hit .357-8-87, fifth in the International League. Mullen, 30, was on option from Detroit. He played briefly with the
Browns in 1920-21 and 1928, Brooklyn in 1923 and the Tigers in 1926, batting .220 in 36 games. Right behind Mullen were outfielder Herman Layne and shortstop Otis Miller. Layne hit .350-7-114, led the league in triples (16) and was third in stolen bases (32). Layne, 25, from New Haven, WV, was in his third year with the Leafs. He went up to Pittsburgh in 1927, his only shot at the majors, but, after going 0-for-6 in 11 games, was sold to Indianapolis. He had a 13-year minor league career average of .327 with 2,097 hits and 315 stolen bases in 1,696 games. He hit over .300 for 11 consecutive seasons, nine in Class AA, which was the top classification at the time. Herman’s twin brother, Harry, also was an excellent minor league hitter and base runner with a .316 average and 311 stolen bases in 13 seasons. Harry never played in the majors. The only time the brothers were on the same team was their rookie year, 1922, at Bristol (Appalachian). The records show that although they were twins, Herman was four inches taller than his brother. After his baseball days were over, Herman became president of his hometown bank.
Miller hit .345 and was the Leafs’ top run producer with 120 RBI, sixth in the league. He also led the league’s shortstops in fielding (.975). After four years with Toronto, Miller moved up to the St. Louis Browns in 1927, batting .224 in 51 games. Back in the minors, he hit .314 and .347 with Milwaukee in 1928-29, then returned to the majors with the Red Sox where he hit .286 and .272 in 1930-31. After a year with Buffalo he retired from baseball. A lifelong resident of Belleville, IL, he represented St. Clair County in the Illinois House of Representatives for 16 years.
Toronto’s first baseman was 22-year-old left-handed hitting Minor (Mickey) Heath who hit .335-10-115 and was second in the league in triples (15). His career began with great promise, but he later encountered frustration and misfortune. Heath belonged to Detroit and started 1927 back at Toronto. However, the Tigers also had future American League batting champion Dale Alexander ready to play first base in AA, so Heath was “loaned” to Hollywood where he languished for four years. In 1928 he hit .307-19-109 and as Dick Beverage writes in his book “Hollywood Stars,” “In the field Heath demonstrated a wizardry that hadn’t been seen in the PCL since Hal Chase was a member of the (Los Angeles) Angels.” In 1929 Mickey helped Hollywood to its first PCL pennant, batting .349 and leading the team in HR (38) and RBI (156). In the final game of the league championship series he hit an inside-the-park homer. Beverage writes, “At no time was he recalled by Detroit nor was he eligible for the draft, since his contract was held by a major league club. At the end of 1929, Mickey fully expected to be in Detroit or on the roster of another major league club in 1930. But once again he was passed up in spite of his average and growing reputation as a fine fielder. Heath spent 1930 at Hollywood where he again enjoyed a fine year (.324-37-136, also setting the PCL record for consecutive hits, 12, September 2-3-4). But the draft went by another time without Heath being selected. Mickey was disturbed enough this time to do something and he wrote a letter to Judge Landis, outlining his problems. The commissioner was interested and replied to Heath, asking for all the details. But Mickey never answered for he had been traded to Cincinnati for two players, OF Marty Callaghan and INF Pat Crawford. Did word get out that Landis was looking into the problem? How did Hollywood end up with the two players when Detroit owned Heath’s contract? We will never know for certain, but it appears that the rules of baseball were violated in this instance.”
Heath began the 1931 season as the Reds’ first baseman, but in the seventh game he suffered a broken arm. While recovering, he was stricken with rheumatic fever and didn’t play again that year. During the off-season he was badly burned when his home caught on fire. It took two full years before he was able to perform anywhere near as well as he had at Hollywood. In 1932 he batted .201-0-15 in 39 games for Cincinnati and was sold to Rochester where he hit .267-7-18 in 36 games. Heath split 1933 between Rochester (.283) and Columbus (.231), the latter one of the Top 100 teams. In 1934 he improved to .280-29-123 at Columbus. He spent the next five years with Indianapolis, Montreal and Milwaukee. In 1939 he was appointed manager of the Brewers and finished sixth in the American Association. He was replaced by Ray Schalk in the middle of the 1940 season. From 1941-1951, Heath was the Milwaukee Brewers radio broadcaster.
Patrolling center field for the Maple Leafs and batting leadoff was 34-year-old Frank Gilhooley, who hit .306 and led the league’s outfielders in fielding (.990) and putouts (376). He was called “Flash” because of his speed in the outfield and on the bases. In a 20-year career he hit .323 with 2,395 hits and 454 stolen bases in the minors. In five full seasons in the majors and parts of four others he batted .271. He spent most of his big league career with the Yankees, then was traded to the Red Sox. In 1919, his last major league season, he was Babe Ruth’s roommate. Gilhooley spent 13 years in the International League with Montreal, Buffalo, Reading, Rochester and Jersey City, in addition to the Leafs. He led the league in stolen bases twice (62 and 53 with Buffalo in 1914-15) and hits once (230 with Reading in 1922 when he batted .362). In 1928 he was player-manager at Jersey City, finishing eighth, and the Skeeters were again last in June, 1929 when he resigned and retired from baseball. For the next thirty years he was deputy treasurer of Lucas County, Ohio (Toledo).
Steve O’Neill, a 35-year-old veteran of 15 seasons in the majors, was Toronto’s first-string catcher, batting .321 in 93 games. O’Neill caught for Cleveland for 13 years, starting in 1911. He was behind the plate in 148 games for Cleveland’s 1920 champions and hit .321. In the World Series he caught all seven games and batted .333 as the Indians beat the Dodgers, 5 games to 2. O’Neill, from Minooka, PA, was one of 13 children. Three brothers, two older, one younger, also played in the majors. In 1902-03 pitcher Mike and catcher Jack formed a brother battery for the Cardinals. Steve left school at the age of 12 to work in the coal mines and played amateur and semi-pro ball until 1910. That summer Mike was managing Elmira (New York State) and when both of his catchers were injured he signed Steve. By the end of the next season Steve was in the majors with Cleveland. He was traded to the Red Sox in January, 1924, caught for Boston that season and the Yankees the first half of 1925 before being released to Reading. He went back to the majors for two more years, 1927-28, with the Browns. His 17-year major league average was .263 in 1590 games. O’Neill started his managerial career with Toronto in 1929 and in his three seasons piloting the Leafs they finished second, fourth and fifth. In 1932 he was a catcher-coach for Toledo (American Association), then managed the Mud Hens in 1933-34, the latter year his last as an active player. He started 1935 as a coach at Cleveland and replaced Walter Johnson as manager on August 5, remaining at the helm through 1937. He managed Buffalo in 1938-39-40, was a Detroit coach in 1941 and managed Beaumont (Texas) in 1942. He piloted Detroit for six years, 1943-48, and led the Tigers to the 1945 World Series championship, beating the Chicago Cubs 4 games to 3. He was a Cleveland coach in 1949 and coached the Red Sox in 1950 until June 23 when he replaced Joe McCarthy as manager. He led Boston again in 1951 and managed the Philadelphia Phillies from June 27, 1952 to the midway point of the 1954 season. He rejoined the Indians as a scout for four years, retiring from baseball after the 1958 season. When Steve was catching his weight was about 165 pounds, but after he quit playing it went up to 215 and his nickname became “Stout Steve.” In his 14 years as a major league manager O’Neill never had a losing season. He finished with a 1,040-821, .559 record.
Toronto’s lone 20-game winner was 23-year-old right-hander Owen Carroll (21-7, 3.56) who was second in the International League in percentage (.724) and fourth in wins. After Carroll died in 1975, The Sporting News wrote: “If Carroll wasn’t the best pitcher in college history, he certainly must have been close to it. In four years at Holy Cross College he had a 50-2 record, his only losses 1-0 to Princeton and 4-1 to Boston College. He beat the Tigers and Red Sox in exhibitions. Scouts flocked to his games and he had offers from almost every club. Jack Barry, his coach, tried to keep the scouts away by telling them that Carroll was studying for the priesthood. But it was to no avail. He signed with Detroit for a reported $25,000 and joined them in 1925 immediately after graduation.” Carroll made his major league debut June 20 and had a 2-2, 3.76 record in 10 games that season. He was optioned to Toronto for 1926. Carroll had his only winning seasons in the majors in 1927-28 for the Tigers, 10-6, 3.98 in 1927 and 16-12, 3.27 in 1928 when he was ninth in the American League in ERA. He dropped to 9-17, 4.63 in 1929, apparently developing arm problems. He was traded to the Yankees in May, 1930, went 0-6, 8.15, was released to Toledo, then bought late in the season by Cincinnati. In 1932 he went 10-19, 4.50 for the last-place Reds, leading the National League in losses. Carroll was traded to Brooklyn and rebounded somewhat in 1933 (13-15, 3.78), but by 1935 was back in the minors with Buffalo, his last year as a pitcher. His disappointing major league record was 64-90, 4.43. Carroll was the varsity baseball coach at Seton Hall University for 25 years, 1948-1972. His teams won 341 and lost 185 for a .648 percentage. He led the Pirates to the College World Series in 1964 and 1971. The baseball and soccer complex at Seton Hall is named Owen T. Carroll Field in his honor.
The Maple Leafs had another pitcher who went on to a successful coaching career, Vic Sorrell, a 25-year-old right-hander who was one of the first pitchers to wear glasses. He jumped from Wake Forest University to Toronto and posted a 8-0, 3.08 record for the 1926 Maple Leafs. He won his first four decisions in 1927, giving him 12 victories in pro ball before he tasted defeat. In 1927 he went 14-8, 3.98. Sorrell pitched for Detroit for the next ten years with a 92-101, 4.43 record. His best year was 1930, 16-11, 3.86. He pitched for Toledo in 1937-38 and managed Bluefield (Mountain State) in 1939-40. For 21 years (1946-66) he was head coach at North Carolina State with a 221-174, .559 record.
Next to Carroll, the Leafs’ biggest winner was 25-year-old Walter (Lefty) Stewart (18-9, 2.99), who led the league in shutouts (6) and was third in ERA and complete games (23). In his three years with Toronto (1924-26) he won 63 and lost only 32. He was sold to the Browns and was with them from 1927-32. In the fall of 1927 his appendix burst while he was on a hunting trip and by the time he reached a hospital, 100 miles away, he was near death. He had a long recuperation and doctors told him he would never pitch again. He did play the next season, but in 1928-29 he was not at full strength. In 1930, fully recovered, he had a 20-12, 3.45 season for the sixth-place Browns, fourth in the American League in ERA, and pitched 271 innings. Following the 1932 season he was traded to Washington in a major six-player swap and helped pitch the Senators to the 1933 pennant with a 15-6, 3.82 record. His last year in the majors was 1935 with Cleveland. He had a career 101-98 record.
Jesse (Slow Motion) Doyle, a 28-year-old right-hander, posted a 15-7, 3.06 record and was fourth in the league in ERA. He had won 34 games for Toronto in 1923-24, then was 4-7 for Detroit in 1925, his only full season in the majors, before returning to the Maple Leafs. Doyle was also a good hitter, batting .370 in 1926. Another excellent hitting Leafs pitcher was right-hander Claude Satterfield who went 7-6, 3.90 in 21 games on the mound, mostly in relief, and batted .353 in 70 games, used frequently as a pinch-hitter. He was with Toronto from 1924-29, batting .363 in 1924 and .313 in 1925. Satterfield pitched a no-hitter for the Maple Leafs in 1924.
Toronto also had a slim 23-year-old left-hander from Cushing, OK, who had a middling 7-7, 3.77 record, seventh on the staff in wins. It is unlikely that anyone who saw him in 1926 would have predicted that Carl Hubbell would become one of the greatest pitchers in major league history. Hubbell had been purchased by Detroit from Oklahoma City in 1925 and optioned to the Maple Leafs. He had perfected a pitch later called the “screwball,” but in spring training of 1926, according to Tom Meany in his book “Baseball’s Greatest Pitchers,” Tigers coach George McBride told Carl that throwing the pitch would injure his arm. “I never threw a screwball while I was Detroit property,” Hubbell told Meany, “after McBride had given me that warning. I pitched for the Tigers with Toronto, Decatur and Beaumont but without the screwball.” The screwball differs from a conventional curve ball in that when the pitch is thrown, the wrist is broken or twisted in toward the body as the ball is released, instead of away from the body. To the batter, the screwball behaved like a right-hander’s curve, breaking in on left-handed hitters and out on right-handers. Given the added plus of Hubbell’s pinpoint control, the pitch served to confuse the batter. Over the years, Hubbell threw so many screwballs that when he held his arms at his sides, the palm of his left hand faced outward instead of inward.
After his year in Toronto, Detroit demoted Hubbell all the way to Decatur in the Class B Three-I League in 1927, then moved him up a notch to Beaumont (Texas) in 1928. He felt he was being treated poorly by the Tigers. Although on the major league roster, in two spring trainings he pitched just one inning in an exhibition game, against the University of Texas in a “B” game. Hubbell got off to a good start in 1928 and Detroit decided to bring him up. However, as related by Meany, Carl refused. He said he told Beaumont manager Claude Robertson that he wouldn’t go back to Detroit and, unless they sold him to another major league club, he would quit at the end of the season and pitch for a semi-pro team operated by a Texas oil company that had offered him a year-round job. At that time, fate took a hand in the person of Dick Kinsella. Kinsella was a scout for the New York Giants and also was a delegate from Illinois to the Democratic national convention being held in Houston. One hot afternoon, Kinsella decided to escape the steamy confines of the convention auditorium and go to a ball game. Hubbell was pitching against Houston ace Wild Bill Hallahan, later a Cardinals star. Hubbell won 1-0 in 11 innings. Kinsella immediately telephoned John McGraw to recommend Hubbell’s purchase, McGraw okayed the deal and a few days later Carl was in a Giants uniform. No one knew it at the time, but the Giants were to be Hubbell’s employer for the next 60 years! He finished 1928 with an impressive 10-6, 2.83 record and went 18-11, 3.69 with a no-hitter the next season. In his 16 years pitching for the Giants he compiled a 253-154, 2.98 record. His control, especially for a left-hander, was phenomenal, averaging 1.8 walks per nine-inning game in 3,590 innings.
Hubbell was at his peak from 1933-37, winning 115 and losing only 50 in five years. His best years were 1933 and 1936 and in both seasons he was voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player. In 1933 he went 23-12, 1.66 with 10 shutouts. On July 2 he tied a major league record by pitching an 18-inning 1-0 shutout against St. Louis at the Polo Grounds without giving up a walk. Ten days later he began a 46 consecutive scoreless innings streak, a National League record at the time. In 1936 he was 26-6, 2.31. Hubbell pitched the Giants to three pennants, 1933, 1936 and 1937 and to the World Series championship in 1933. (Ironically, his opponent in Game 1 of the 1933 Series was none other than Stewart, his teammate on the ’26 Leafs.) In Series play he was 4-2, 1.79. No wonder he was called “The Meal Ticket” and “King Carl.” He pitched in five All-Star Games and is known for his legendary performance in the 1934 contest when he struck out five future Hall-of-Famers in succession - Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin. As envisioned by McBride, throwing the screwball caught up with Hubbell and in 1938 he had to have an operation on his elbow. He continued to pitch until 1943, but was never as successful as before the surgery. In 1947, in his first year of eligibility, Carl was elected to the Hall of Fame. In December, 1943, just after he hung up the glove, Hubbell was named farm director of the Giants and remained in that position until his retirement in 1977. From then until his death in November, 1988, he was a part-time scout and advisor for San Francisco.
In mid-season Toronto picked up some additional strength. They added 13-year American League veteran outfielder Clarence (Tilly) Walker, who started the season with Baltimore. The 39-year-old Walker finished the season batting .339-27-91, third in the league in home runs. In the last days of the deadball era, 1918, Walker, playing for Philadelphia, hit 11 homers tying him with Babe Ruth for the American League lead. The other addition was 27-year-old right-hander Clarence (Red ) Fisher from Buffalo. He wound up with a 15-4, 4.92 record, mostly in relief. Fisher, a submarine pitcher, was with Washington briefly in 1919-20 and had been with Buffalo since 1922. He pitched the first game in new Bison Stadium in 1924. Fisher stayed with the Leafs through 1930.
Befitting Toronto, two future members of the Hockey Hall of Fame appeared briefly for the Maple Leafs. Cecil (Babe) Dye, a 28-year-old left-handed hitter, started the season in right field and had two hits in the opening game, but after eight games was sold to Baltimore. He had played for Buffalo from 1922-25 with a four-year .309 average. A high-scoring right wing, Dye played in the NHL for 12 years with Toronto, Hamilton, Chicago and the New York Americans. He was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1970. At the end of the season, Lionel Conacher got into three games with the Leafs as an outfielder, but failed to get a base hit. That was his only pro experience. A defenseman, Conacher played 12 years for four NHL teams and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1994.
In their remaining 41 years in the International League, the Leafs won several more pennants, including a Top 100 championship in 1960. Following the 1967 campaign, the team left the league. Today, the city of Toronto is represented by the American League Blue Jays.
The 1926 Maple Leaf champions were memorable for being the club that finally knocked the Orioles off the top rung. In doing so, the club managed to ring up 109 wins, the most of any Toronto team in history.
|1926 International League Standings|
|1926 Toronto Maple Leafs batting statistics|
|Clarence Walker (Bal)||OF||119||404||95||137||91||21||2||27||71||49||9||.339|
|Cecil Dye (Buf)||OF||51||181||26||39||20||5||1||1||13||12||3||.215|
|Clarence Fisher (Buf)||P||28||59||6||11||4||1||0||0||1||11||0||.186|
|1926 Toronto Maple Leafs pitching statistics|
|Clarence Fisher (Buf)||15||4||.789||28||9||2||150||179||61||57||4.92|