ATI

All-Time Indians: Tris Speaker

Name: Tristram E. Speaker Position: Center Field/Manager
Tribe Time: 1916-26/1919-26 Nick Name Grey Eagle
Accolades: Hall of Fame (1937) DOB: 04/04/1888
Stats G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OBP SLG AVG OPS
Best Season (1923) 150 574 133 218 59 11 17 130 93 15 8 .469 .610 .380 1.079
Indians Career 1519 5546 1079 1965 486 108 73 884 857 146 151 .432 .520 .354 .952
As Manager W L W% Finish                      
Best Season (1908) 98 56 .636 1st
Indians Career 617 520 .543 3.3

The greatest doubles hitter in Major League history, Tris Speaker was inducted into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1937 as a member of the Cleveland Indians. This was just the second Hall of Fame class in baseball history as he joined seven other greats to be one of the first 13 people enshrined and one of the first eight players along with former Indians Cy Young and Nap Lajoie and his primary rival, Ty Cobb. While he did play with four franchises, the Grey Eagle had his most successful seasons as a member of the Tribe, after garnering over 1,300 hits during his nine years with the Boston Red Sox.

Speaker began his professional baseball career in the Texas League at the age of 18 and after hitting 32 doubles for Houston in 118 games in 1907, a hint of the rest of his career, he was signed by Boston at the age of 19 part way through the season. While he didn’t play much in his first two seasons, by 1909 he was a .300 hitter and the Red Sox starting center fielder and by 1912 he was a .380 hitter and the American League MVP. With 53 doubles that seasons he lead the AL, something he would do seven more times (six for the Indians) ultimately heading to his Major League record of 792, 46 more than the second best, Pete Rose.

For seven years, Speaker with the Sox competed with Ty Cobb for the title of best hitter in baseball, but despite a clause that allowed a team to maintain control of a player indefinitely, Speaker was traded to the Indians in 1916 for Sad Sam Jones, Fred Thomas and $55,000. While this wasn’t quite the curse of the Bambino, it may have been the second worse trade the Red Sox ever committed and it happened just three years before Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees.

The Sox had just won two World Series with Speaker (1912 and 1915) and the addition of Speaker would be the real key for the Indians to win their first just a few years later. In his first year with the Tribe, he lead the league in hits (211), doubles (42), average (.386), OBP (.470) and slugging percent (.502). While the MVP award was suspended from 1915 through 1921, there is little question that Speaker would have otherwise won it for his 1916 campaign in Cleveland. While it was early in franchise history, he became just the third Indians hitter to surpass the 40 double mark (along with Lajoie and Shoeless Joe Jackson) and his .386 average was the third most in Indians history (behind two Jackson seasons) and remains the fourth best to this day.

The next season, Speaker only hit .352 (his ninth season in a row with an average of at least .300 in at least 140 games), but hit another 42 doubles and 11 triples. While more known for his prodigious doubles numbers, Speaker had both the speed necessary to play center field, which he did from a very shallow position that allowed him to field short flies with the range to catch the deep ones and leg out a huge number of triples. Ultimately, he would set the Indians career record with 108 (surpassing another Hall of Famer, Elmer Flick), a number since surpassed by only Earl Averill.

Speaking of defense, considering the age he played in, Speaker was arguably the best defensive center fielder in team history. We don’t have many numbers beyond fielding percent (which wasn’t excellent at .975, but lead the AL four times while with Cleveland) or any video, but we do have his cumulative numbers, all of which are Indians records from total games in center field to balls fielded (4,169), double plays made (74) and outfield assists (221). In fact, no player has ever come anywhere near Speaker’s numbers in center not just because of his lengthy career, but because of his incredible range. For his entire career he lead the league in range factor three times (33rd in MLB history), double plays eight times (first in MLB history with 99) and assists five times (first in MLB history with 292 as a center fielder and 449 as an outfielder). While others like Larry Doby and Kenny Lofton may have been more flashy and more well known to the modern crowd, no one in baseball history for any team has put together a defensive career in the outfield comparable to Speaker’s.

He played in just 127 and 134 games in 1918 and 1919 (still hitting more than 30 doubles each year), but just when his career looked to be waning, Speaker jumped right back to be one of the top hitters in baseball again. Before this happened, however, Speaker added another line to his Hall of Fame resume as he was named player/manager with 61 games left in the 1919 season. Speaker took over for Lee Fohl, who had been the manager since 1915, going 327-310 overall and ten games over .500 in the 1919 season. Taking quickly to his new job, Speaker’s Indians finished out the year 40-21 to come a close second (3.5 games back) to the White Sox who would go on to throw the World Series in what could be the biggest scandal in baseball history.

It was the 1920 season that Speaker is most remembered for and for good reason. In addition to his bat coming back (he hit .388, surpassing his previous career high, lead the league with 50 doubles and knocked in over 100 for the first time), he lead the Indians to their first World Series despite multiple set backs including the death of star short stop Ray Chapman due to an on-the-field incident. As a manager, Speaker had to maintain the ship through this turmoil and he was lucky enough to have another Hall of Famer, Joe Sewell, come up to replace Chapman. Another move that came with risk, but ultimately helped the Indians win the World Series was depending on Duster Mails late in the season and in the Series itself as the rarely used pitcher really stood out.

In the World Series, which the Indians won in seven games (they went 5-2 in the best of nine series against Brooklyn), Speaker played in each game, batted .320 and had four extra base hits out of his eight safeties. The captain on and off the field, Indians fans owe Speaker a debt of gratitude for eternity for pulling the team together and winning the first title in franchise history and the last for another 28 years.

As he went further into his 30’s, somehow Speaker became an even better hitter, batting .362 in 1921, .378 in 1922 and .380 in 1923. That 1923 season would arguably be his best ever as he set personal highs in runs scored (133), RBI (130) and doubles, all numbers that remain in the top ten for Indians single season records. His 59 doubles were the most impressive, even for the man who averaged more than 40 per year throughout his career. That number set an Indians record and although it wouldn’t last long with George Burns hitting 64 in 1926, it remains the second highest total in Tribe history.

This would be his last incredible how could he maintain that for a full season year, but he still batted .389 as a less regular player in 1925 and hit 52 doubles at the age of 37 in 1926. At the same time, his success as a manager was not as consistent. After winning 98 games in 1920 and 94 the next season, the Indians would barely be a .500 team the next two years and would drop below for the two after that. In the 1926 season there was a bit of a turnaround as Burns won the MVP and Sewell and Speaker had great seasons, but there would also be some negativity off the field that would cause this 88 win season (2nd place) to be Speaker’s final with the team.

After the controversy following the 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal, MLB commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was on the hunt to find any players with gambling allegations around the league. One of those players was Speaker, who was alleged to have conspired to throw a game with Cobb years earlier. While nothing was proven (hence both their places in the Hall of Fame), the scandal was enough for the Indians to want Speaker gone and he was released in January of 1927. He played one more full season with the Washington Senators, batting .327 with 43 more doubles, but was released at the end of the season again and played just one more partial season with the Philadelphia Athletics at the age of 40 to round out his Major League career.

Just to prove he still had it, Speaker played two seasons with Newark of the International League and in his final year in organized baseball he batted .419 at the age of 22 against lesser talent. He would never get another managing job outside of Cleveland, but that was plenty. Overall, he won 617 games to 520 losses and his 5-2 (.714) record in the world series is the best winning percent of any Indians manager in the post season. Only two other Indians managers have won as many as 600 games, Mike Hargrove and Lou Boudreau and while they both reached the World Series, Boudreau is the only other Indians manager to win it.

As if one aspect wasn’t enough, Speaker was one of the Indians best managers, hitters and defensive players in team history. His career offensive statistics down the line are generally all in the top ten in Tribe history and among center fielders, only Averill has surpassed many. Just as he was very worthy to be a member of the second Hall of Fame class, he was entered into the Indians Hall of Fame with the first class ever in 1951. The Gray Eagle, known that for his early onset of gray hair and his incredible range in center, died at the age of 70 in 1958.

Tris  Speaker

Joseph Coblitz

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since its inception in 2011. He also writes for The Outside Corner and the Comeback and hosts the Tribe Time Now podcast. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona the Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians. Follow on twitter @BurningRiverBB

Quantcast