NOTE – The following passage comes from a draft of my book The Least Among Them which presents an original and unique history of the New York Yankees. The Least Among Them is currently in the editing stage. It is hoped that the final research for this text will be completed in 2017 with a targeted 2018 publication date.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN – HARRY HANSON (1913)
It has been seen that the 1912 Highlanders were not a very impressive squad. In 1913, the results on the field for this franchise did not change dramatically. As a baseball team, they were still not very good. In 1912, the Highlanders won 50 games and finished in last place in the eight team American League. The 1913 squad fared only slightly better, earning 57 wins and a seventh place finish in the eight team league. One member of the 1913 team was a man who set a Major League record that still stands today – a catcher by the name of Harry Hanson.
Harry Hanson had his one opportunity to play Major League Baseball as a seventeen year old on July 14, 1913. Hanson was signed by the Yankees (the team name they adopted permanently in 1913) because the team was suffering through a period when they lacked depth at the catcher position. It was said that the Yankees manager Frank Chance took Hanson, a Chicago schoolboy, until his “backstopping staff” could get back on its feet. It is assumed that Hanson was signed while the team was in Chicago during its three game series there from July 9 through 11, 1913. It was just three days after they left Chicago, on July 14, that Harry Hanson enjoyed his only professional baseball game. When he appeared in the game, Harry Hanson, at 17 years old (and 178 days) became the youngest player to ever appear in an American League game as a catcher. (The second youngest catcher to appear in an American League game was eventual Hall-of-Famer Jimmy Foxx who appeared as a catcher for the Philadelphia Athletics on May 26, 1925. Foxx was 17 years, 216 days old at the time.)
Harry Hanson’s baseball opportunity did not come in New York, rather his game came as they Yankees continued their road trip in St. Louis against the lowly Browns. In 1913, there was only one team that finished below the Yankees in the standings; that squad was the Browns. The unremarkable St. Louis Browns team finished in last place winning only 57 games against 96 loses. (The 1913 Yankees also won only 57 games, but they ended with two fewer losses, and as a result, finished above the Browns in the standings.)
There were not many players of note on the 1913 Browns. Their only Hall-of-Famer was Bobby Wallace who, by this point in his career was a reserve player who hit only .211 for the season. One of the Brown’s most proficient batters was Del Pratt a sophomore second baseman. Pratt hit .296 in 1914 while leading the league in games played for the first of four consecutive years. Later, Del Pratt, a forgotten star, would have his own impact of Yankees history.
Del Pratt was traded to the Yankees in January 1918 along with legendary pitcher Eddie Plank in exchange for five players including Urban Shocker (who would win 20 or more games in four consecutive seasons for the Brownies before returning to the Yankees in 1925). Eddie Plank never suited up for the Yankees and instead retired from baseball to his home in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. But it was Pratt who brought some legitimacy to the pre-Babe Ruth Yankees. In fact, sportswriter Fred Lieb first called the Yankees lineup “Murderers Row” after they had acquired Pratt an able batsman who was an important part of what Lieb called “the greatest collection of pitcher thumpers today.” Pratt helped take the Yankees franchise from doormats in the league to a team that began contending, if eventually falling short, of the American League title. Pratt remained a Yankee until after the 1920 season when he was traded to the Red Sox, in General Manager Ed Barrow’s first ever trade. In that deal, the Yankees received Wally Schang and Waite Hoyt, two key contributors to the Yankees dynasty of the 1920’s.
As noted, the 1913 Yankees also were not an overly very talented squad, but there were some players of note on the team. Their shortstop, Roger Peckinpaugh was playing in his first of nine years as the Yankees shortstop. Peckinpaugh would be named Yankees captain, and, a year later, would manage the team for 20 games.
A part time third baseman on that squad, Fritz Maisel, would, in 1914, set the Yankees single season record for the most stolen bases with 74. This was a record that would last until it was eclipsed by Rickey Henderson in 1985. Henderson is the only Yankees player to ever steal more bases in a single season than Fritz Maisel. Henderson bettered Maisel’s mark three times, in 1985 with 80 stolen bases; in 1986 with 87 stolen bases; and finally, in 1988 with 93 stolen bases – each in succession becoming the Yankees all-time record.
Also on the 1913 Yankees was pitcher Russ Ford, playing in his final season with New York. Ford, earlier, had some brilliant seasons, winning more than twenty games in both the 1910 and 1911 seasons.
The Yankees manager, Frank Chance, was also a part-time player. Chance, the first baseman of the legendary poem, Baseball’s Sad Lexicon (which is better known as “Tinker to Evers to Chance”) was in the first of his two seasons managing the Yankees. The Yankees lack of success under Chance, a four time pennant winner and two time World Series manager with the Chicago Cubs, helped to prematurely end his managerial career. After being fired by the Yankees in 1914, Frank Chance had only one other Major league managing opportunity – with the 1923 Red Sox who finished in last place.
The ball game between the visiting Yankees and the Browns on July 14, 1913 was not much of a contest. The Browns had their way with the Yankees winning easily 11-1. Harry Hanson played as the Yankees catcher for all of three innings. In his time behind the plate, Hanson recorded one assist and one putout against no errors. The assist came when he threw a runner out who was trying to steal a base. As a hitter, Hanson batted twice, but recorded no hits, although a game account shares that he hit the ball solidly in both of his at bats.
After the 11-1 loss to St. Louis, Hanson’s Major League career was over. It is unclear why Harry Hanson did not play in another Major League game nor go to the Minor Leagues. The records seem to indicate that his only professional baseball playing came during his one game in the Major Leagues.
Sports fans tend to compare their favorite players and the stars to heroes. Ordinary men can become regarded as larger than life based upon their exploits on a playing field. Harry Hanson was a hero, but his legend came away from the baseball diamond on two of the biggest stages in world history – World War I and World War II. Harry Hanson served in both wars with the United States Army. During his 37 years of military service, Harry Hanson rose to the rank of Colonel. His career involved working with infantry and tank divisions.
Colonel Harry Hanson died on October 5, 1966. He passed away while enjoying a round of golf at the Savannah Golf Club. He was 70 years old.