It was November of 1914, and Johnson was eviscerating Frank Chance, famed leader of the 1906-1910 Chicago Cubs and recent manager of the New York Yankees, for the benefit of The Sporting Life, the preeminent sports journal of the day.[i]
Chance, one of the game’s biggest stars and legendary characters, had abruptly resigned as manager of the Yankees with three weeks left in the season. Holding court two months later with the Sporting Life, Johnson clearly felt the time for politesse had passed. He took the Chance resignation as a personal insult and a grievous slight against his league:
President Johnson had great hopes of Chance moulding [sic] a winner in New York, and when, after almost two years as the leader of the New Yorks, he quit a dismal failure, the blow all but floored Ban for the count. The American League has ALWAYS PLAYED SECOND FIDDLE [emphasis theirs] to the Giants in New York, and Ban and other American Leaguers figured that Chance was the man to bring about a change in the condition of affairs.” – Sporting Life, Nov. 28, 1914.
Of course, there was more to the story.
The catalyst for Chance’s departure – doubtlessly known to Johnson but ignored in his re-telling of events – was a dispute with star pitcher Ray Caldwell, a hard-drinking, skirt-chasing, curfew-ignoring type who clashed with the disciplinarian approach of the Peerless Leader. After multiple transgressions against team rules, the young right hander was fined several hundred dollars by Chance; Caldwell in turn left the team and signed with the Buffalo Blues of the Federal League.
“Good riddance,” thought Chance. But Yankees ownership had other ideas. Team President Frank Farrell overruled his manager, rescinded the fines leveled against Caldwell, and welcomed him back to the team with open arms.[ii] Undermined and humiliated, the proud Chance essentially quit on the spot. While his timing may have caught the team by surprise, it was long known that Chance was frustrated with management’s refusal to pay for talent (and the scouting department’s inability to identify talent); the Caldwell incident was the proverbial straw. After two dismal seasons (the Yankees finished seventh in the eight-team league in both 1913 and 1914), Chance, who won two out of every three games he managed as a Cub, was no longer able to stomach losing and what he saw as a clear lack of support from ownership.
After a brief tit-for-tat in the press, the Yankees and Chance parted ways on what was reported as amicable terms (the Yankees issued a statement praising Chance as an all-time great, and Farrell and Chance “parted best of friends,” according to the obliging press of the day). But it was the worst-kept secret in baseball that the two sides despised each other.
In a somewhat shocking maneuver, Farrell and co-owner Bill Devery named young shortstop (and Frank Chance favorite) Roger Peckinpaugh to replace the departed manager. Peckinpaugh, age 23 and with all of 300 or so major league games on his resume, would guide the team for the remainder of the 1914 season. It seems unthinkable today, and even by the standards of Peckinpaugh’s time, when player-managers were somewhat common, it was an extraordinary appointment. Sixty years later, Peckinpaugh revealed how it came about for Marty Appel’s Baseball’s Best:
“In September [Chance] came to me and said he’d had a run-in with the owners and he was going to quit and go home … Chance says he was going to recommend me to run the club for the rest of the season. ‘Maybe you can get a little extra dough out of it,’ he told me. The next day, Farrell says, ‘We want you to take charge of the team for the rest of the season.’ So I say, ‘Yeah? What’s in it for me?’ So they offered me a little extra dough. And that’s how I became the youngest manager in the big leagues at 23.”
And how did Ban Johnson view the Peckinpaugh appointment? As another opportunity to pile on Frank Chance for the benefit of the Sporting Life: “Roger Peckinpaugh, youth though he is, displayed far more class as manager of the New Yorks in the short time he was at the helm than Frank Chance ever did.”
And so, at the age of 23, Peckinpaugh’s die was cast, his character affirmed: Thoughtful leader of men. Brainy student of the game. The classy young man who succeeded Frank Chance as manager of the Yankees. It was a reputation he carried for the rest of his career, and in all likelihood this reputation secured him the MVP 11 seasons later, an MVP that served no purpose other than to recognize an old hand for his years of distinguished service.
From Baseball's Most Baffling MVP Ballots, ©2016 Jeremy Lehrman by permission of McFarland & Company, Inc., Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640. www.mcfarlandpub.com
[i] Chance helmed the Cubs from 1905-1912, but it is obviously their 1906-1910 run that places them amongst the best teams of all time.
[ii] Caldwell would compile a 27-36 record while pitching to a sub-average ERA for the post-Chance Yankees. He was traded to the Red Sox after the 1918 season.
[iii] It's essentially impossible to exaggerate Chance's standing in the game. He was among the most famous players of his day, and the most venerated. Johnson savaging Chance would be akin to Bud Selig accusing Derek Jeter of operating puppy mills staffed with under-aged labor.