William F. Baker, who owned the Philadelphia Phillies from 1911 to 1930, cut the outfield grass at the Baker Bowl with sheep. Sheep were cheaper than men and lawnmowers. That fact tells you all you need to know about Mr. Baker as a baseball magnate. The Phillies won the 1915 pennant, but thereafter Baker operated the Phillies as a farm team for the rest of the majors. Moderately profitable from 1920-30, the Phillies were not inept; like Connie Mack’s cross-town Athletics (or today’s Miami Marlins) they’d figured out how to game the system to make money without bothering to actually compete.
Baker’s most famous deal occurred on December 11, 1917, when he sent pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, 30, and catcher Bill Killefer to the Cubs in exchange for two players and $55,000. Alexander’s record to that point was 190-88 with a 141 ERA+. His record thereafter: 183-120, 130 ERA+.
Most important for Giants fans was that Baker personally made John McGraw’s last four pennant winners (1921-24) possible by dealing shortstop Dave Bancroft, center fielder Casey Stengel and left fielder Emil “Irish” Meusel to New York for various benchwarmers and $30,000. In the Meusel deal, Baker suspended his outfielder for “indifferent play” as a cover for dealing him; Meusel was hitting .353/.385/.560 at the time, good for third in the league in both batting average and in slugging percentage.
Because Meusel (who was actually of German decent) was a rising star and because the Phillies did not get equal value in return, the trade elicited the predictable complaints from Pittsburgh and other cities with contending teams that McGraw was trying to buy a pennant. The Sporting News, always on the lookout for what it perceived to be a pro-New York bias among the owners, was quick to find fault with the trade. Some called for action from Commissioner Landis, who in June had vetoed McGraw’s attempt to get Heinie Groh from the Reds. But in this instance, Landis allowed the deal to stand. Landis would admit later, though, that “the Meusel deal never should have gone through.”
The issue of late-season, seemingly one-sided acquisitions would arise again a year later. Then, it would involve both New York teams and come, coincidentally, at the expense of both teams from St. Louis, the home of The Sporting News. In late July 1922, the Yankees and Giants were in close races with the Browns and Cardinals. On July 23, the Yanks acquired third baseman Joe Dugan from the Red Sox; and a week later, the Giants got pitcher Hugh McQuillan from the Braves.
Shortly after those deals were completed, Cardinals vice-president and field manager Branch Rickey echoed the disapproval many owners and fans had about them. Speaking at a Rotary Club luncheon in St. Louis, Rickey alluded to the wealth of the two New York teams and asked, “How can those teams without unlimited resources in their deposit boxes have a chance to compete fairly?” And while Landis again failed to react, allowing each of those trades to stand, the owners did take action. First, they moved the trading deadline from July 31 to June 15. Then, they changed the rules to allow each team in the league, in their reverse order in the standings, the option of claiming any player involved in a trade made after the June 15 deadline.
As a Giant, Irish would four times drive in over 100 runs. In four World Series (1921-24), he hit .304/.460/.764. The Meusels, Irish and Bob (with the Yankees), were the second set of brothers to ever play in the same World Series (1921-23). They lived with their families during that time in the same apartment building in New York. The brothers had somewhat similar career statistics. For example, they both played eleven years, with one batting .310 and the other .309. They were the first siblings to combine for fifty home runs in the same season (1925). They were also the only brothers who both won RBI titles.
Despite the Black Sox scandal being quite fresh in the minds of the public and ballplayers alike, there were persistent rumors, now more or less forgotten, that gamblers had become involved in the outcome of the 1921 Giants-Yankees World Series. Carl Mays had shut out the Giants in game one, and was cruising along with another shutout in game four, leading 1-0 going into the Giants’ eighth inning. Suddenly, Mays fell apart, the Giants scoring three runs in the frame. Pitchers lose it all the time, but what made Yankees’ manager Miller Huggins and others suspicious was that just before the key hit, a triple by Meusel, Huggins had signaled from the bench for a fastball, but Mays disregarded him and threw Meusel a slow breaking pitch with little on it.
Said Huggins shortly before his death, “Any ballplayer that played for me could come to me if he were in need and I would give him a helping hand. I made only two exceptions, Carl Mays and Joe Bush. If they were in the gutter, I’d kick them.”
Meusel played for the Giants after those four World Series, having arguably his best season in 1925, although he was limited by injuries to only 558 plate appearances The Giants finished second to the Pirates, though. In 1926, with the Giants barely able to win half their games through August, McGraw, harassed and foul-tempered, publicly criticized several of his veterans. Meusel, the manager complained, had “value only as a hitter” and wasn’t hitting. (At the time, Meusel had an OPS+ of 103, about league average, but that was quite a comedown from his heights.) By the time the St. Louis Cardinals clinched their first National League pennant on September 26 at the Polo Grounds, Meusel was watching from the stands, having been given his outright release.