The Pittsburgh Pirates were ready to begin their defense of the 1909 World Series title. Going into Opening Day of the 1910 season, they made very few changes from the previous season, with the biggest difference being the sale of workhorse pitcher Vic Willis, who had four twenty win seasons in a row for Pittsburgh. The only regular in the lineup who didn’t return was Bill Abstein, who was replaced by two players in John Flynn and Bud Sharpe, two men that battled it out in Spring Training for the starting spot.
Opening Day was April 14th in St Louis, and just happened to match up Pirates star pitcher Howie Camnitz, with the aforementioned Vic Willis. Pittsburgh took an early lead in third, scoring two runs, then Camnitz gave one back in the bottom of the inning. From there on out, it was all Pirates, as they added two more in the fourth and another in the seventh on their way to a 5-1 victory. Camnitz went the distance and Willis pitched the entire game. Vic even had another future Hall of Fame player on his side that day, his backstop Roger Bresnahan.
Pittsburgh would lose game two of the season, but take the series with a strong pitching performance from veteran Sam Leever in game three. The two teams would meet again four days later and due to the weather, the Pirates had their entire series canceled against Cincinnati, so Pittsburgh ended up playing their first six games of the year against the Cardinals. In game four of the season, they put a beating on Vic Willis, pounding out 13 hits and scoring 9 runs. The game was actually 4-2 in the Cardinals favor up until the bottom of the sixth inning, when the Pirates put up four and three runs in back-to-back innings, chasing Willis from the game.
The weather played havoc with the early part of the schedule. After the Pirates swept St Louis to go 5-1 on the season, their next game came four days later in Chicago, with the start of that series pushed back due to snow. They returned home for two games with Cincinnati only to see one of those games get canceled due to the weather. With the Cubs coming into town, followed by a series in Chicago, the Pirates would end up playing 14 of their first 15 games against either the Cubs or Cardinals. At that time, manager Fred Clarke had surmised that all of the good the team did in Spring Training was now gone to waste by sitting around half the time waiting to play.
At the close of play on May 8,1910, the Pirates were in first place, percentage points ahead of the Giants, who had played three more games. Pittsburgh’s offense and strong pitching had provided the team with 67 runs scored and just 34 runs allowed. Not only was that easily the lowest runs allowed total, but the team was also scoring more runs per game than any other team. Part of that early going was also done without starting right fielder, Chief Wilson, who had slipped on the poor fielding surface during the team’s home opener. Vin Campbell had taken his place and was filling the position well enough for people to start asking if Wilson would have the starting job when he came back. Also around this time, John Flynn took over the first base job. Bud Sharpe was a good fielder but Flynn had a big bat and played the position well enough to play everyday.
With Sharpe now deemed to be a backup, the Pirates made their first trade of the season, one to bolster an already strong pitching staff. They sent Sharpe to the Boston Doves along with Sam Frock, who had pitched just one game in relief, allowing four runs in two innings. In return, the Pirates received Kirby White, a young pitcher with good results(1.38 ERA in three starts) but one who had control issues. White would start one game right away, winning 8-3 over the Cubs, then not start again for another five weeks. That first game by White was another come from behind win for the Pirates, as they scored six runs in the eighth inning. Chief Wilson had returned for this game and Vin Campbell was used as a pinch hitter during that eighth inning for White, getting two AB’s before the inning was over.
On May 9th, the Pirates opened up a homestand that would include visits from Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Boston, then the second place Giants, before Boston would come back again to end the 19 day stretch. It was a key part of the season for the Pirates, as both Brooklyn and Boston were cellar dwellers, picked to finish in the bottom of the standings. Meanwhile on the other end, the Phillies were right behind the top two teams in the league, and the Pirates had trouble with Philadelphia in prior seasons.
The homestand started with a win, then the offense disappeared for three out of the next four days. The day the bats came alive, the pitching disappeared in an 11-9 loss on May 12th. The day before that game, Pittsburgh had their eleventh game of the series postponed. The horrible early season weather would eventually lead to the team playing 18 doubleheaders over the course of the 1910 season, with the first one not occurring until the end of May, already thirty-one games into the season.
The Pirates lost the last two games to Brooklyn and the first two to the Phillies. On May 14th, after the second loss to Philadelphia, the Pirates fell into a three way tie for first place with the Phillies and Giants. Pittsburgh would rebound to win the last game from Philadelphia and the first two from Boston, but a second rough patch in a short time, was just up ahead. Boston beat young Bill Powell to salvage a game from that series, bringing in the New York Giants.
Lefty Leifield took the mound for the Pirates in the opener, winner of two straight after losing his first two games. He was faced by Bugs Raymond, who won 18 games for the Giants in 1909, one season after leading the National League with 25 losses. It was a pitcher’s duel, ending 1-0 with Leifield coming out victorious. It was a good game for the Pirates, but it highlighted the fact that the hitting still wasn’t coming around after a fast start. Pittsburgh was fortunate enough not to face pitching great Christy Mathewson in this series, a pitcher that owned the Pirates even during their best seasons. They were unable to capitalize on that luck, losing the next two to New York, then for good measure, they lost the final two games of the homestand to the lowly Boston Doves.
That second rough patch wasn’t quite over just because the Pirates got away from home. The went for two games in Chicago, against a Cubs team that had moved into first place, winners of 11 out of 14 games. The Cubs continued their hot streak while the Pirates bats fizzled. After a 2-1 loss on May 29th, the Pirates had now dropped six games in a row. Their record was nearly even at 16-15 and they had fallen back to fourth place in the NL, getting passed by the Reds as well as those Giants and Cubs teams. In their last seven games, the Pirates scored a total of eight runs.
Through games on May 28th, the Pirates leading hitters were Dots Miller, with a .287 average(Campbell was hitting .289 in limited time), Bobby Byrne at .282, Tommy Leach at .259 and Honus Wagner was down at .240 on the year. Even Fred Clarke, a Hall of Fame outfielder with a .312 career average, was hitting just .190. Flynn(.221), Gibson (.195) and Wilson (.145) rounded out the team.
When we return next week for the last games of May, the Pirates will take on those Reds in their first doubleheader. Babe Adams will be on the mound for game one and in the second game, Nick Maddox will make his first start of the year. He went 41-17 over his first three seasons in the majors with the Pirates, but had pitched just three games in relief in the early part of the 1910 season.