Lou Gehrig, St. Louis Brown (Almost)
Following up on a previous post on how Ty Cobb was nearly a Brown, here’s another involving Lou Gehrig.
Gehrig spent about half of the 1923 season with the Yankees, albeit mostly watching from the bench (he actually debuted against the Browns on June 15, entering on defense in the ninth inning and handling a Jack Tobin grounder).
Miller Huggins wanted to send Gehrig, who was still only 20, back to Hartford of the Eastern League for more seasoning in 1924. But because he played in the majors in ’23, he’d have to pass through waivers. Such things could be a formality in the early part of the century when collusion ran rampant.
However, when the Yankees tried to pass him through waivers in December at least two teams claimed him, one of those reportedly being the Browns (later reports had up to five teams putting in a claim).
The Browns had George Sisler at first base, but he had missed the entire 1923 season due to sinusitis and there were still doubts whether or not he could hit, never mind even play first. In September 1923, the Browns reportedly offered in excess of $30,000 to Toledo for their first baseman, but were informed that the player – Bill Terry – was already property of the New York Giants. (Yes, another future Hall of Famer who “nearly” was a Brown.)
So it should be no surprise that the Browns would put a claim in on Gehrig, although business manager Bill Friel denied the report.
“Nothing to it,” Friel said of the Browns supposedly claiming Gehrig. “I have heard good reports about the youngster, but I have not refused to waive on him.”
The Yankees tried to pass Gehrig through waivers again in January, and again he was claimed (by up to seven teams, reportedly), and again the Browns were involved.
Again, though, the report was mixed.
The St. Louis correspondent in The Sporting News wrote:
“The Browns might be able to use Gehrig as an understudy to Sisler, but after inspection of his work in the Eastern League last season, after the Yankees let him out, Bill Friel is not so impressed. Bill may make up his mind shortly and tell the Yanks heâ€™ll pay around the waiver price for Gehrig, but not more. Gehrig looked like a bear in a few games with the Yanks, but playing regularly in the Eastern, where nearly everybody hit .300, he was able to negotiate a batting average of only .304. Ball players never thought of as major league possibilites did many points better than that in that league.”
Gehrig did hit .304 in 1923 for Hartford (as did 59 other players who had at least 61 at-bats), but the correspondent failed to note that the Columbia University product also slugged .749.
However, in the same report, the correspondent did note that the Yankees “have been feeling out the management of the Browns about [Gehrig], but Bill Friel, sensing that the Yanks are anxious, has been teasing them by pretending indecision.”
At the same time, Friel had another matter to deal with. During the 1923 season, he displeased Urban Shocker by enforcing the Browns’ rule that wives couldn’t go on road trips – something that Friel’s predecessor Bob Quinn evidently let slide. But Quinn left earlier in the season to take over as president of the Boston Red Sox and Friel decided to rule with an iron fist over this.
Shocker was fined and suspended, and now in the offseason was looking to become a free agent, saying his rights were infringed upon.
The matter still wasn’t solved in January, and commissioner Landis was to be involved in the whole mess.
The Yankees always regretted trading Shocker to the Browns and it became a yearly offseason rumor that New York would try to get him back. The Bridgeport Telegram speculated that Shocker could be the key to a Gehrig deal: “â€¦ it is not likely that the Browns will be able to woo [Gehrig] away from the Yanks. However, the rumor as to their claiming of the youngster has revived the rumor of a trade for Urban Shocker, the famous pitcher. The Yanks might be interested under these circumstances.”
As it turned out, Shocker eventually agreed to a new contract with the Browns – with Quinn being the intermediary.
Finally, in April, the Yankees put Gehrig on waivers and no team claimed him. He was off to Hartford for the majority of the season and then, well, you know.
Why did the Browns (and other teams) suddenly pass on any waiver claim? Because of Sisler.
At one point in the offseason, Sisler said he would pitch if he could not play first base. But as soon as he arrived at training camp in Mobile, Sisler was hitting, not pitching, and he (as new manager) placed himself into the starting lineup.
Truth of the matter is that the Yankees likely would have kept rescinding waivers on Gehrig and let him sit on the bench the entire season rather than lose him. It would make sense that other clubs were aware of this – or were told this – and thus gave up their claims as well.
In the end, just another oh-so-close story for the Browns, who saw Sisler’s play tail off (in comparison to his pre-1923 days) before being dealt prior to the 1928 season while Gehrig would terrorize St. Louis pitching perhaps more than any other team over his career.