Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Philography: Sherry Magee

This time around we’re entering the Way Back Machine, back to the first decade of the 20th century, and giving fans a bit of a background on a Phillies Wall of Famer.
Sherwood Robert Magee, better known as Sherry Magee to baseball fans of his day, was born on August 6th, 1884 in Clarendon, Pennsylvania, a tiny borough in Warren County, just north of the Allegheny National Forest, about 140 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
If you want a rough comparison to a contemporary baseball great, think Pete Rose. Magee was described by John J. Ward in ‘Baseball Magazine‘ as “a man for whom it is easy to conceive a great liking or a passionate hatred,” per Tom Simon at SABR‘s baseball bio project, who further sketched out my Rose comparison by writing: 
Though he stood only 5’11” and weighed 179 lbs., he was physically imposing-“husky” and “burly” were adjectives commonly used to describe him.
Simon reports that it was a Phillies scout by the name of Jim Randall who happened to be disembarking a train in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, just outside Harrisburg, in early summer 1904 when he overheard some locals raving about a local ballplayer.
Randall stopped to see the kid, and offered him a contract that same day. The next day, the 19-year old Magee was in Philly practicing with the team. Just two days after first being seen, Magee was starting in left field for manager Hugh Duffy‘s squad at Baker Bowl in an 8-6 loss to the Brooklyn Superbas.
Before his arrival, the Phils had started the season 13-42. With Magee in the lineup, the club would go a much more competitive 39-58 the rest of the way. That first season, Magee hit .277 with 57 RBI and 51 runs scored in 387 plate appearances.
He also stole 11 bases that first season, and his career was off and running, literally. Magee would swipe 40 or more bases in five of the next six seasons, with a high of 55 steals in 1906.
As told in my recent piece on the topic, Magee was one of just three Phillies players in franchise history to steal 2nd, 3rd, and home in the same inning and sequence of base running. He stole home an astounding 23 times in his career, and remains the only Phillies player to ever steal home twice in the same game.
Magee would play for 11 years with the Phillies, finishing up with the 1914 season in which he finished 7th in National League MVP voting during a year in which he led the league in hits (171), doubles (39), RBI (103), Total Bases (277), and with a .509 slugging percentage.
The Phillies would win the club’s first-ever NL pennant in the 1915 season, reaching the World Series for the first time. But Magee, their longtime star outfielder, wasn’t around to be a part of that exciting series against Babe Ruth and the Boston Red Sox.
On Christmas Eve of 1914, the Phillies traded Magee away to the Boston Braves for players to be named later, who turned out to be a nothing named Oscar Dugey, and Possum Whitted, who would become a starting outfielder for the team for the rest of the decade.
The impetus for the trade was that, despite his excellence on the field, Magee was a surly personality. In a famous 1911 incident, Magee had actually attacked an umpire on the field. His subsequent suspension was a primary reason that the team fell short in its first run at a National League pennant.
Whitted, on the other hand, was a hustling outfielder who was well liked by fellow players and fans alike. Not blessed with the same natural ability as Magee, he nonetheless could play well enough to be a positive piece on the 1915 NL champions.
Magee, meanwhile, suffered through a disaster. The trade to Boston was supposed to have put him with his first winning team. But, as Simon describes it in his SABR bio piece, fate intervened, as it so often will in such situations:
Reporting to spring training in Macon, Georgia,” Simon writes, “Magee was in a Braves uniform no more than 15 minutes when he stepped in a hole while shagging a flyball. He fell and injured his shoulder. Weeks later, when it failed to improve, he finally saw a doctor and learned that his collarbone was broken. Magee was only 30 years old but never again was the same player.
Magee would play in parts of three seasons with the Braves, and then finished up his big league career playing in parts of two season with the Cincinnati Reds in 1918 and 1919. Still, Magee wasn’t finished playing baseball. He clung to the dream, playing seven seasons in minor league baseball. But he would never make it back to the Majors.
Incredibly, the man who had been known as an umpire baiter, and who had been suspended for attacking one on the field, would retire only to become an umpire himself. In fact, he proved so good at it that he was hired by the National League, and by all accounts did an excellent job during his lone season as a big league ump in 1927.
Magee was scheduled to return to his umpiring duties for the 1928 season.During the off-season that winter, he worked at a restaurant in Philadelphia. 
Simon tells that in early March, just as he was looking forward to the season, Magee became ill, developing pneumonia. On March 13th, 1929, he died at the age of just 44 years.
In his 11 seasons with the Phillies, Magee put together a cumulative .299/.371/.447 slash line, with 1,176 RBI and 898 runs scored. He also swiped 387 bases, a figure that still has him 4th on the all-time franchise leader board. His 1,647 hits as a Phillies player make him one of just a dozen to pass the 1,500-hit mark with the team, and have him at 8th on that all-time list.
For more detailed information on Magee, please visit the Simon link presented earlier in this story, and you can also read a fine piece from the 2001 SABR Baseball Research Journal #30 written by Simon titled “Sherry Magee, Psychopathic Slugger” available from that link on Ebay.

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