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Eddie Plank and the Philadelphia Athletics’ First Dynasty
Ten years after its formation in 1901, the American League (AL) was still looking for its first championship dynasty. Detroit had won three AL pennants in a row (1907-09), but then had proceeded to lose the World Series all three times to the National League (NL). Indeed, the AL had lost four World Series against its older and more established rival while only winning two. Six NL teams, moreover, had demonstrated their individual dominance by winning over 100 games in capturing league titles from 1902-09, while the AL had yet to have a single team break the century mark in wins during a season. AL owners knew their league still had to prove to the NL that it was a worthy equal, and that only a championship dynasty would do it. But which team and when?
The answer came in 1910 in the form of the Philadelphia Athletics. The A’s crashed out of the gate like a charging locomotive and never looked back. At season’s end, the team had notched an impressive 102-48 record, and left the second-place New York Yankees in the dust 14 ½ games behind. The Athletics handily defeated the Chicago Cubs in the World Series, four games to one.
The Athletics staged an encore performance the next year, going 101-50, a full 13 ½ games ahead of the second-place Detroit Tigers. The World Series saw the A’s beat their arch-rivals, the New York Giants, four games to two. In 1910-11, the Philadelphia Athletics set new standards of excellence for the AL—becoming the first club to win 100 games in a season; becoming the first to win 100 games in back-to-back seasons; and becoming the first AL team to win back-to-back World Series. There was no doubt the AL had its first championship dynasty and had arrived as a major league organization.
After a one-year absence from the familiar territory of first place, the Athletics again won the AL pennant in 1913, compiling a 96-57 record and holding a comfortable 6 ½ game lead over the second-place Washington Senators. The World Series featured a rematch with the Giants, and the A’s emerged victorious four games to one. By doing so, the A’s became the first team in either league to win three World Series in four years.
The Athletics showed their mastery of the AL again in 1914, winning the title with a 99-53 record, and easily outpacing the second-place Boston Red Sox by 8 ½ games. The World Series, however, marked the end of the line for the A’s First Dynasty. The club was crushed by the Boston Braves four games to none, earning the dubious distinction of being the first team ever to be swept in the Fall Classic. A’s manger Connie Mack, sensing his team had passed its peak, sold off several star players. Other Athletics’ players signed to play the next year in the upstart Federal League. Decimated by these losses, the Philadelphia Athletics tumbled into last place in the AL in 1915, signaling unmistakably that the A’s First Dynasty period had passed.
Connie Mack blended the talents of a number of highly-gifted players in fashioning the Philadelphia Athletics First Dynasty, but none stood higher in the pantheon of greatness than Edward Stewart "Gettysburg Eddie" Plank. The southpaw pitcher joined the team at its inception in 1901 and stayed with it through the 1914 season. In doing so, Plank achieved the unique status of being the only A’s player to be with the club for that entire period.
Plank’s pitching achievements make it abundantly clear why Mack kept him around so long. In his time with the club, Plank notched a 284-162 record. During the First Dynasty years (1910-11, 1913-14), Plank went 72-35. What made Plank such a dominant pitcher? A’s teammate Eddie Collins once said, "Plank was not the fastest, not the trickiest, and not the possessor of the most stuff, but he was just the greatest." Fellow Athletics pitcher Jack Coombs called Plank the most remarkable left-handed pitcher he ever saw. "Never did he pitch the ball over the center of the plate unless he absolutely had to," Coombs recalled.
Connie Mack had an extensive series of personal contacts among college coaches and managers of minor league and independent clubs. These proved fertile grounds for breeding talented players, and Mack often would be contacted by a coach or manager who believed he had a player ready for the major leagues. Mack remembered, "The Gettysburg (College) coach, Frank Forman, lived in Baltimore and was a good friend of mine. Frank told me he had two pitchers, each of whom he thought could win in the new American League—Plank, a left-hander, and George Winters, a right-hander. I picked Plank while Winters signed with Boston."
In his 14 years with the Athletics, Plank won 20 or more games seven times, and he completed over 80 percent of the games he started for the team. He helped the A’s win six AL pennants (1902, 05, 10-11, 13-14) and three World Series championships (1910-11, 13). He led the AL at various times during that period in winning percentage, games pitched, complete games, and shutouts. Plank accomplished a lifetime 2.35 ERA.
Eddie Plank was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame (HOF) in 1946. His HOF biography notes that Plank "outsmarted his opponents" in becoming "one of baseball’s all-time great southpaws." After leaving the Athletics following the 1914 season, Plank played three seasons in Saint Louis. He retired in 1917 with 326 career wins. Although he hasn’t pitched a ball in 90 years, it is remarkable to point out that Plank still ranks third in most all-time victories among lefthanders in major league baseball.
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