Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
In the second year of the 20th century, a team from Toronto won almost 70% of its games to capture the Eastern League crown. Despite this superlative record, the club won the pennant by only the slimmest of margins.
Toronto’s participation in professional baseball spans well over 100 years. In 1885, a team called the Canucks played in the Canadian League. The next season, the team, along with a club from Hamilton, was absorbed into the International League, the forerunner of today’s AAA circuit bearing the same name. After finishing in the runner-up spot in 1886, the team won the pennant the following season with a record of 65-36. The club was paced by a double-duty performance seldom duplicated. In addition to winning the batting title (.428), Ed “Cannonball” Crane finished with a 33-13 record as a pitcher. Crane fulfilled a similar role in his nine-year major league career, batting .238 in 391 games while going 72-96 from the mound.
Toronto stayed in the league through the 1890 season, when the whole circuit foundered on July 10 with the Canucks a game out of first with a 30-20 record. Five years later, the Canucks re-entered the circuit, now called the Eastern League. Here, the team did not meet with immediate success, finishing one game out of the cellar. Plagued by poor attendance the next year, the club switched to Albany in mid-July. However, matters did not improve, and 18 games later, the team returned to Toronto.
In 1897, the team was christened the Maple Leafs. The club finished the season in second, 3 ½ games behind Syracuse, thus earning the right to play the Stars in the Steinert Cup. This trophy, donated by Steinert and Sons of Providence, would be given to the winner of a series between the first and second place Eastern League teams. Tied at three games apiece, the series was discontinued when the two teams couldn’t agree where to play the deciding game.
After a strong second place finish in 1901, the Leafs were poised to make a run at the top in 1902 with a team with their share of major league veterans. However, they had company. A stubborn Buffalo club clung to their heels for the whole season. When the dust settled at season’s end, Toronto had a record of 85-42, with Buffalo coming in at 88-46. This gave the Leafs the pennant by a slim ½ game. Later, one of Buffalo’s losses was thrown out, improving their mark to 88-45. Since both teams then were 43 games over .500, they would appear to have finished in a tie. That was not the case in 1902. In that era, games behind were not tabulated--pennants were awarded solely by winning percentage. In that category, Toronto came out on top, .669 to .662.
The 1902 Leafs were managed by future Hall-of-Fame executive Edward Barrow. Barrow, who had never played the game, entered professional baseball in 1894 at the age of 26 as a partner with concessionaire Harry Stevens in the ownership of the Wheeling club in the Interstate League. Barrow served as business manager as well as field manager. The next year, Stevens took over the concessions at New York’s Polo Grounds and offered Barrow an equal partnership. Barrow turned it down. Later in life, he said it was the biggest mistake he ever made. Barrow then acquired the Paterson, NJ, franchise in the newly organized Atlantic League. One of the young players he signed was Honus Wagner. In 1897, he became president of the Atlantic League, a position he held until 1899.
In 1900, Barrow bought a one-fourth interest in the Toronto club and took over as manager. The winter after he won the Eastern League pennant, he was hired as manager of the Detroit Tigers. He resigned in the middle of the 1904 season, managed Indianapolis (American Association) in 1905 and returned to Toronto in 1906. After finishing last that season, Barrow left baseball until December 1910, when he was elected president of the Eastern League. One of the first things he did was change the name to the International League.
Barrow resigned as International League president after the 1917 season to become manager of the Boston Red Sox. In 1918 he led the Red Sox to their last World Series championship. It was in that season that Barrow began the conversion of Babe Ruth from an outstanding left-handed pitcher to an outfielder, persuading Ruth the next year that his future career was as a hitter. Opposition to the sale of Ruth to the Yankees in December, 1919, and further friction with Boston owner Harry Frazee led Barrow to resign at the close of the 1920 season to become business manager of the Yankees.
Starting with their first pennant in 1921, Barrow was the architect of the Yankees success for the next 25 years. He became the team’s president on the death Col. Jacob Ruppert in 1939. Tax problems of the Ruppert estate eventually forced the sale of the Yankees in 1945 to a syndicate headed by Larry MacPhail, whom Barrow detested, and Ed retired. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1953, just a few months before his death
First baseman William Massey was the only Leaf batter to cross the .300 barrier, finishing at .311. The 31-year-old Massey had played in 13 games for the 1894 Cincinnati Reds, batting .283. Other Toronto batters who were major league veterans included second baseman James “Midget” Miller, who played in 18 games for the ’01 Giants; Lew Carr, who batted .250 in nine games in 1901 for the Pirates; and Jimmy Bannon, who enjoyed a pair of .330 seasons for the Beaneaters in 1894-95.
The Maple Leaf batting attack may not have been the strongest, but their pitching was second to none. Herb Briggs (20-8), Jim Gardner (19-4) and Lou Bruce (18-2) gave Toronto an unmatched starting trio. Briggs, who had won 17 games for Chicago from 1896-98, parlayed his success with Toronto into another chance with the Cubs. Making the most of his opportunity, Briggs fashioned a 19-11 season for Chicago in 1904. Gardner was also a veteran of major league service, going 25-22 for the Pirates and Cubs. Bruce, the 1902 Eastern League percentage leader (.900), pitched in two games for the 1904 Athletics. In addition, part-time pitcher Duke Esper (5-8) won 101 games for six different major league teams from 1890-98.
The Toronto Maple Leafs continued in the league for another 65 years, through the league’s change of name to International, winning pennants in every decade but the 1930s and 1940s. Following the 1967 season, the team left the International League, leaving the circuit bereft of a Canadian team for the first time since Toronto joined the league in 1895. In 1976, the Blue Jays brought baseball back to Toronto, giving Canada its second major league team.
The 1902 Maple Leafs, behind a veteran squad, won the pennant by a razor-thin margin with not a victory to spare. Using today’s method of measuring by games behind, they would have faced a possible playoff game with Buffalo. However, by using the more exact measuring stick of winning percentage, Toronto won the pennant fair and square--albeit not by much.
|1902 Eastern League Standings|
|1902 Toronto Maple Leafs batting statistics|
|1902 Toronto Maple Leafs pitching statistics|
|John Pappalau (Worcester)||3||1||.750||5||37||35||3||10|
|Bob Blewett (Montreal)||0||3||.000||6|