Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
|1906 Des Moines Champions|
On its roster, the 1906 Western League champions featured an interesting pair of players. One, nearing the end of his career, earned a legacy of glory by setting an all-time minor league career record, while the other, a mere youngster, later endured infamy by being swept up in baseball’s biggest scandal. Nearly overshadowing this pair was the team’s manager - a hard-nosed ex-player who pulled no punches.
The city of Des Moines, located in south-central Iowa, began its pro ball career in 1887. Here, a team known as the Hawkeyes finished fourth in the Northwestern League with a 73-47, .608 record. Following the campaign, the team left the league to join the Western Association. In 1888, the team, now called the Prohibitionists, just missed capturing the flag, finishing a slim one-half game behind Kansas City. After a tail-ending placement in 1889, the team was 31-52 in the midst of the next campaign when they pulled up stakes and moved to Lincoln.
Four years later, the Prohibitionists returned to the Western Association, fielding a 7th place team. In 1895, the team rose to 3rd before capturing the pennant the next year. The 1896 championship was tainted by the fact the season lasted only 75 games, with Des Moines as one of only three active teams when play halted on August 1. After a fourth place showing in 1897, the team dropped out of the league.
In 1906, the Des Moines team renamed themselves the Champions, in honor of their 1905 crown. The club lived up to the difficulties inherent with such a choice by winning the pennant with ease. The team sported a 97-50, .660 record, a full 23 games ahead of second place Lincoln.
The Champions were managed by 36-year-old Jack Doyle, a native of County Kerry, Ireland, who immigrated to Holyoke, Mass., as a child. His baseball career spanned 71 years, starting in 1887. In the majors, Doyle played for ten clubs from 1889-1905, batting .299 in 1,564 games with 516 stolen bases. He started as a catcher-outfielder and became a first baseman in 1894. His best years were 1894, when he batted .367 for New York, and 1897, when he hit .354 with 62 stolen bases for Baltimore. He is credited with being the first pinch-hitter in pro ball, with Cleveland at Brooklyn June 7, 1892. Pat Tebeau was the manager and Doyle came through with a game-winning single.
Because of his aggressive base-running, Doyle was known as “Dirty Jack,” although he defended himself by saying that was necessary to win games in those days. The book “Baseball’s First Stars,” published by SABR says, “Always a fierce competitor, he engaged in brawls with umpires, fans, opposing players and even his own teammate. More than once these battles led to Doyle’s being arrested.” He carried on a lengthy feud with John McGraw that started when they were teammates at Baltimore. McGraw had the last word. In 1902, When McGraw was appointed manager of the Giants, his first act was to release Doyle, although Jack was batting .301 and fielding .991. “Despite his seeming lack of self-control,” says the SABR publication, “Doyle was a natural leader. He was selected team captain in New York, Brooklyn and Chicago, and served as an interim manager for the Giants in 1895 and Washington in 1898.
In 1905, after playing one game with the New York Highlanders, Doyle became manager of Toledo. Following his championship season at Des Moines, he managed Milwaukee in 1907. In 1908-09, the only years of his adult life spent outside of baseball, he served as police commissioner of his hometown of Holyoke, somewhat ironic considering his past reputation. Doyle returned to the game as an umpire and worked in the National League in 1911. After ten years as an arbiter, he joined the Cubs as a scout in 1920 and remained in that capacity until his death on December 31, 1958. In his many years with the Cubs, Doyle was credited with signing or recommending the acquisition of such stars as Gabby Hartnett, Hack Wilson, Billy Herman, Stan Hack, Bill Jurges, Charley Root, Bill Lee, Augie Galan, Riggs Stephenson and Phil Cavarretta.
From the plate, Des Moines was led by a trio of .350 hitters. Outfielders Mike Welday (.359) and Ben Caffyn (.353) as well as catcher Jay Towne (.357) all finished in the top five in the batting race. Other offensive contributors included first baseman Charlie Dexter (.333) and shortstop Red Andreas (.322) who also stole a league-high 84 bases.
Joining Welday and Caffyn in the outfield was 37-year-old George Hogriever, who was playing in his 18th pro campaign. Known throughout his career as a speedster, he lived up to his billing in 1906, pilfering 66 bases, which was second only to Andreas. Previously, Hogriever had set season marks in 1894 by stealing 94 for Sioux City and in 1897 by swiping 97 for Indianapolis, both of the Western League. When he retired after the 1912 season at the age of 43, Hogriever had stolen 948 bases, which still serves as a minor league benchmark.
From the mound, the Champions were led by a trio of 20-game winners. Roscoe Miller (28-15) led the circuit in wins while Lou Manske (23-10) had the best percentage (.697). Reeves McKay (20-10) split time between Des Moines and Lincoln.
Also pitching for the Champions was a 21-year old right-hander named Ed Cicotte. Cicotte, who tossed a no-hitter against Omaha, finished the season with a 18-9 mark. In 1905, he joined the Detroit Tigers, going 1-1 in three games. After a stop with the Red Sox, Cicotte joined the White Sox midway through the 1912 season. Here, he achieved his greatest glory and his greatest shame. He posted a pair of fine seasons, winning 28 in 1917 and 29 in 1919, both for pennant winning teams. However, after the latter pennant, he was offered money to throw the 1919 World Series--money which Cicotte accepted. When the plot was discovered, he and seven teammates, known forever after as “The Black Sox,” were banned from the game by Commissioner Landis. It was a sad way to punctuate a fine 209-148 career.
In addition to Cicotte, ten other members of the squad saw action one time or another in the majors. Most prominent of this group were Dexter who batted .261 in 771 games from 1896-1903 and Magoon, who hit .239 in 522 games from 1898-1903.
Des Moines remained in the Western League through 1937. In that space of time, the team won pennants in 1909, 1925, 1926 and 1931. After the league was reformed in 1947, Des Moines won another flag in 1948 and playoff championships in 1953 and 1954, the former with a fourth place .497 club. Following the demise of the Western League in 1958, the city joined the Class B Three-I League for a three- year stint. Here, the team won a flag in 1959. In 1969, a team playing in Des Moines, but given the generic name Iowa began a long stay in the Class AAA American Association, winning a crown in 1993. When the Association was phased out after the 1997 season, the team joined the Pacific Coast League, where they play today.
The 1906 Des Moines Champions were worthy of their nickname. Managed by one of the true characters of the game, while being paced by a veteran base-stealing champion and by a young pitcher with a troubled future, the team finished with the second best winning percentage in over 50 years of league history.
|1906 Western League Standings|
|DES MOINES||97||50||.660||-||SIOUX CITY||69||81||.460||29.5|
|1906 Des Moines Champions batting statistics|
|Roland Wolfe (Lincoln)||OF,C||76||262||35||76||10||.290|
|Reeves McKay (Lincoln)||P||61||181||27||41||8||.226|
|1906 Des Moines Champions pitching statistics|
|Reeves McKay (Lincoln)||20||10||.667||41|