Thursday, August 21, 2008

Immaculate Inning: Pat Ragan

"Ragan, by the way, had made something of a record in the previous inning, by striking out three men in succession on nine pitched balls. Ragan called the crowd's attention to his performance as he went along by taking off his hat and bowing after he pitched each strike. He didn't have much to bow for though, when the ninth inning was finished." -- New York Times, October 6, 1914

Of all the Immaculate Innings that have occurred since 1889, few of them could match the circus-like atmosphere surrounding the performance of Brooklyn's Don Carlos Patrick Ragan. It was the ninth inning of the final game of the season, and the team then alternatively known as the Superbas and Robins capped a mediocre season with a pair of lopsided losses. The first place Boston Braves were in town and dominated Brooklyn in the first game, 15-2 (in a sign of the speed of baseball at the time, the game took just one hour and four minutes). In the second game, Brooklyn pitchers kept the Braves' offense mostly check through the first seven innings, but the home team was still losing 4-1 when Ragan took the mound for the eighth. The antics are certainly legendary, and because I've read Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends, normally I would not expect one isolated account to stand as fact. However, the Boston Globe's account of the game goes into hilarious detail (see a scan of the excerpt here):

Pat Ragan, who went into pitch the eighth inning of the second game, performed an unusual feat by striking out Whitted, Schmidt, and "Red" Smith, on nine pitched balls. The first two men never offered at the ball, but Smith took three healthy swings.

Pat was full of "pep" and knew that he had something that he was going to get action on. For after the first ball he shot over he tossed his cap as if response to applause to the spectators seated behind the visting players' bench. On the second called strike he repeated the performance, this time facing in the direction of the fans in the other wing of the stand.

When Whitted was called out on strikes on the third pitched ball, he acknowledged what he pretended was applause from the center of the stand-- and he was getting applause all right by this time.

He went through the same cerempny as one strike after another was called on Schmidt, and had the spectators and players convulsed with laughter and cheering to split their throats. Pat continued to bow his acknowledgements until Smith took his position at bat. No strikes were called on Red, for he offered at the three balls pitched-- but never touched one of them.
Read the full article here (for $4.95).

Ragan's victims were: Possum Whitted (I bet there's a great story behind that nickname...), Butch Schmidt, and Red Smith. Possibly inspired by Ragan's strikeouts and accompaning theatrics, Brooklyn rallied four runs across in the bottom of the eighth, anchored by a double down the line, called fair despite appearing to be more than a foot foul. However, the Times was right about Ragan not having much to bow for in the ninth; the Braves enacted sweet revenge on the showboating Ragan. The man named Possum delivered the death blow, grand slam that broke a tie game and eventually gave the Braves a 9-5 win.

Surely, if Around the Horn and PTI and Deadspin and other rabble rousers were around in 1914, there would be hell to pay for Ragan. Given the rending of garments about Joba Chamberlain's fist pumps and Manny Ramirez's crowd high-fives, a pitcher who gestures to the crowd after every pitch in a meaningless late-season game would probably make Skip Bayless' head explode (especially since he then blew the game!). Still, I find it a bit sad that Rich Harden and Felix Hernandez didn't do the same during their Immaculate Innings this season.

Ragan's Immaculate Inning came exactly two years after he pitched the final game in Washington Park for Brooklyn, who crossed the street to Ebbet's Field the following year. According to the Times, "Ragon [sp]... wasn't half bad in pinches, for out of a dozen raps the Giants were only able to harvest a single run." Strangely, the Times consistently spelled our hero's name as "Ragon" prior to 1914. They had it right following the 1913 season, when Ragan apparently considered a jump to the newborn Federal League, which was offering major contracts for the first time, in an attempt to challenge the NL-AL relationship. Unlike Ban Johnson a dozen years earlier, John T. Powers wasn't able to establish his league, and no serious challenge to the major leagues has happened since.

Ragan did eventually return to the Superbas, but only for the one season. Perhaps his antics on the mound in Boston on that immaculate day in 1914 was his way of saying a sarcastic goodbye to Brooklyn. Ragan pitched five games (only one start) for the Superbas in 1915 before being sent to the Boston team he'd dominated seven months earlier. I had some trouble tracking down the details of the transaction: on April 20, Ragan faced the Braves, while on May 7 the Times has Ragan pitching for the Braves, against the Giants. Baseball Almanac records that Ragan was sold to the Braves on April 28, 1915. It turns out the New York Times coverage of the transaction is buried in an article about a college baseball game: "Manager George Stallings of the Boston Braves has refused to waive claim on pitcher Pat Ragan of Brooklyn, and the player has been ordered to report to the Boston Club." It was a waiver claim, and the Superbas had tried to send Ragan to Newark because the National League required a roster reduction to 21 players by April 29.

The New York Times, for its part, considered the move a big mistake for the Brooklyn team. Ragan would have his two best full seasons of his career in 1915 and 1916. The following year, a Times article had an amusing headline: "Ragan Jinx Fails to Daunt Giants: McGraw's Men Chase Don Carlos and His Hoodoo to Shower in Fourth." In 1918, shortly before a trade to the Giants, Ragan shut down the Brooklyn team now nicknamed "Robins," and the Time waxed poetic: "It has ever been the history of baseball in Brooklyn that those players who in due course of time have been graduated to another major league club have taken a keen delight in pummeling the team mates of their earlier days on the diamond. The rule was in no wise violated yesterday when there came forth to dominate the Dodger batsmen none other than Pat Ragan of the Braves."

Two weeks after that article, Ragan was sent back to New York, this time to the Giants, in exchange for a man you may have heard of: Jim Thorpe. The man who was later voted the greatest athlete of the first half of the twentieth century was winding down his baseball career, and had played only sporadically for the Giants in 1918. He was quite successful for the Braves following the trade, hitting .327/.360/.429 (OPS+ of 141) in 156 at bats. Ragan, meanwhile, saw his career slipping away as well; he played just seven games for the Giants before being sold to the White Sox, for whom he pitched just one inning. After several years in the minors, Ragan surfaced for three innings on the Phillies in 1923. He stayed on as a coach during the 1924 season and was quoted in the 2004 book The Fix is In regarding a betting scandal on the Giants in 1923. Ragan said that Jimmy O'Connell, the player who was accusing others of fixing games, was simply the butt of some jokes from the veterans. (National League comissioner Kenesaw Landis eventually found O'Connell guilty of throwing games and banned him from baseball for life.)

Unlike the previous two historic names associated with the Immaculate Inning, Ragan is a relative unknown; no books have been written about him, and his grave in Los Angeles bears simply "Professional Baseball Player." But in the Immaculate Inning hall of honor, he will be remembered for much more.

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