nicknames: “ The Grey Eagle”, “Spoke”
Born - Died: 4/4/1888 - 12/8/1958
Playing Dates: 1907-1928 for 4 major league teams.
Spent his entire career in the American League.
1907-1915 Boston Red Sox
1916 -1926 Cleveland Indians
1927 Washington Senators
1928 Philadelphia A’s
Positions: Outfield (Centerfield)
Batted/threw: left/ left.
Tristam “Tris” Speaker, was born and raised in Hubbard, Texas. He played in the Texas League until aquired by the Boston in 1907. At age 19 he broke into the major leagues with the Red Sox playing in only 7 games and going 3 for 19, all of those hits being singles. Boston did not have much belief in Speaker and traded him to Little Rock of the Southern League in exchange for use of their facilities for spring training in 1908. Still he didn’t get discouraged and played well enough in Little Rock that Red Sox took notice of him again, and re-purchased his contract.
In 1908 he came off the bench, playing in 31 games and batted .224. It was the last time before the year he retired he would hit less than .296. Over those 16 seasons Tris tore the cover off the ball, hitting for good average, and compiling 114 home runs, 768 doubles, and 218 triples. He also stole 424 bases. Most of his career was played in the true “dead ball” era of baseball and his home run total was quite credible. In fact, he lead the majors in home runs with 10 in 1912.
On the field he was a legend and still is considered to be one of the greatest defensive centerfielders the sport has ever seen. In his career he had 6788 putouts and 448 assists(a ML record) from that position. He also is the all time position leader in double plays. His recorded three unassisted double plays in his career, including the only one in World Series play ever completed by an outfielder.
He played one of the shortest centerfields the game has ever seen, relying on extraordinary speed to allow him to back up on balls. He was also prone to zip in from centerfield to take a pickoff throw and tag out startled base runners.
Still Tris’ career was not without some color. In 1915 he had a falling out with Red Sox president Joe Lannin, who wanted Speaker to take a pay cut from about $15,000 to about $9,000 since his average had fallen to a mere .322. Speaker refused and would not sign such a contract and Lannin dealt Speaker to Cleveland for Sam Jones, Fred Thomas and $50,000 before the 1916 season.
The angry Speaker held out for $10,000 of that cash that Boston had recieved and eventually with the aid of AL President, Ban Johnson got it. He then signed with Cleveland, turned around and averaged over .350 for ten of the next 11 years.
His return to Boston, May 9, 1916, was a unofficial tribute by the fans, over 15,000 showed up and roared with approval everytime Tris came near the ball. Reacting without thinking at the end of one inning Speaker started towards the Boston dugout. The crowd went wild. His return is only spoiled because the Indians lose 5-1.
During 1918 Cleveland and Speaker were competing for the pennant with his old team the Red Sox. They stayed close, but on August 28th, Speaker had a on field confrontation with umpire Tom Connolly over a play at the plate while in Philadelphia. The dispute was considered an assault on a umpire and Speaker was suspended the remainder of the season. Without Tris, Cleveland could not hold on and Boston went on to win the pennant and the last of their World Series.
In 1919, Tris became a part time player-manager for the Indian and remains in that position for seven years. In 1920 he guides the Tribe to their first ever World Series Championship. He managed for 1137 games finishing 617-520 before “retiring” as a manager, but not as a player.
This “retirement” is forced by AL President, Ban Johnson after a scandal involveing gambling broke in 1926 in which at least a Cleveland-Detroit game was said to have been “Fixed”. Both Speaker and Ty Cobb were implicated, and were forced to “resign” as managers.
Tris did not play another season in Cleveland, but was moved to the Washington Senators for the 1927 season. Here he hit .327 in his last full year in the sport. Speaker played part of one more season, as a member of the 1928 Philadelphia A’s he only came to the plate 191 times and finished with a .267 average.
Tris was not through with baseball though. In 1937 he was elected to the Hall of fame along with Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie. Interestingly enough Speaker was considered a good friend of Cobb who was known as one of the most hated men in basebal ever. Cobb considered Speaker to be the best player he ever played against.
Perhap their feelings on Babe Ruth reflected the real change in baseball in its transition from the dead ball to the home run era. It was a change they may not have understood when Tris spoke these words (a sentiment echoed by Cobb):
"Ruth made a grave mistake when he gave up pitching. Working once a week he might have lasted a long time and become a great star."
His feelings never changed in believing that Cobb was the best player ever.
Tris never really got the credit he deserved, being overshadowed by Ty Cobb early in his career and the first of the great home run hitters, Babe Ruth in his later years. Still he is near the top in many of the all time records as well as many of the Boston Red Sox records.
He left his mark with career numbers as follows:
Games played: 2789
At bats: 10,195
Home Runs: 117
Batting Average: .345
On Base Percentage: .428
Slugging Percentage: .500
Total bases: 5101
Total Strikeouts: 220 (no, thats not an error).
Awards and Catagory Leads:
Batting Title 1916: .386
Chalmers Award (the MVP of his day) in 1912
led league in Slugging Percentage in 1916
led league in On Base Percenage in 1912,1916, 1922, 1925
led league in Hits 1913,
led league in Total Bases 287
led league in Doubles 1912, 1914, 1916, 1918, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923
led league in Home Runs 1912