Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Kid Gleason

In the 19th century, the St. Louis Browns had three of the best hitting pitchers this side of Babe Ruth. According to methodology developed by Bill James, the six best hitting pitchers of all time are the Bambino, Monte Ward, Bob Caruthers, Dave Foutz, Elmer Smith, and Kid Gleason. The top ten is basically Ruth and a bunch of 19th century guys.

Gleason, who played for the Browns from 1892 to 1894, was a pretty good pitcher with a career record of 138-131 and an ERA+ of 104. In 1895, while playing with Baltimore, Gleason developed a sore arm. At the same time, Orioles' second baseman Heinie Reitz broke his collarbone. While the Orioles were looking for replacement for Reitz, Gleason volunteered to fill in at second and played so well that he never went back to the mound. Kid Gleason, who had already pitched in the big leagues for eight seasons, played 14 more seasons as a second baseman.

Dan Lindner has a nice piece on Gleason, who is best known as the manager of the Black Sox, over at SABR's BioProject and had this to say about Gleason's days with the Browns:

Gleason was sold to Saint Louis prior to the 1892 season and assumed a position in the starting rotation for the next two seasons, winning 20 or more games both seasons while playing more games as a spare fielder. He started 45 games each season, completing all but two in 1892 while hurling 400 innings (he added 380 in 1893). Though not among the league leaders, he nonetheless produced numbers that later researchers concluded gave him a positive Total Pitcher Index for both seasons.

It should not be surprising that Gleason, like any spirited St. Louis player of the day, ran afoul of team owner Chris Von der Ahe. One day, as Kofoed told the story, the owner imposed a fine on Gleason by withholding $100 from his pay envelope. Kid marched into Von der Ahe's office and yelled, "Look here, you big, fat Dutch slob. If you don't open that safe and get me the $100 you fined me, I'm going to knock your block off."

Gleason got his refund immediately.Gleason got off to a poor start in 1894, losing six out of eight starts, and was sold to Baltimore for $2,400 in late June.

Al Spink , in The National Game, wrote the following about Gleason:

One of the oldest second basemen in the National League in 1908 was William Gleason of the Philadelphia Club.

"Kid" Gleason, for that is the name he has been known by in the base ball field for nearly a score of years, and even now in his veteran days, started off as a pitcher.

He was a fine speedy twirler at that but when his arm gave out he was easily able to obtain a position as an infielder for besides being a ball player of all-round capacity, he was a batsman of the first flight.

He covered second base for the New York Team for several seasons and then went to Philadelphia. He was not related in any way to William Gleason, the great short fielder of the St. Louis Browns.

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