Tris Speaker in uniform sometime in the early 1900s.
Bridging the Two-Way Gap

Bridging the Two-Way Gap: Tris Speaker

Tris Speaker was once one of the best baseball players in the world. From 1909 until 1927 he was possibly the best player in baseball, and at the very least belongs in the same conversation with Babe Ruth, Joe Rogan, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Oscar Charleston, etc. The memory of Speaker’s place in the game has faded throughout the years. On a personal level, I’m not too sad about that, according to multiple sources Speaker was a virulent racist and member of the Ku Klux Klan. Still, the man did play baseball at a super high level, for one year he was a two-way player, and there are personal accounts of him having shed his racism in his later years. People can change, maybe Speaker did, well, at least I hope he did.

In 1906 Speaker manned center field and pitched for the D-level Texas League Cleburne Railroaders. He was signed by the Railroaders to be a pitcher, but a shaky start to his pitching career meant he was given a shot in the outfield early on in the season. He appeared in 11 games for Cleburne as a pitcher, and we don’t really know much beyond his record of 2-7. Recounts of his time as a pitcher with Cleburne have Speaker as wild and hit pretty hard when he did get the ball over the plate. Needless to say, even without reliable stats, the picture painted of Speaker the pitcher is not a pretty one.

Speaker played 73 games in the outfield for the Railroaders during the 1906 season. The man who would go on to be called The Grey Eagle was much better with the bat than he had been on the mound. In 287 at-bats he slashed .268/?/.383 with 16 doubles and 7 triples. He didn’t set the world on fire, and again we are dealing with an incomplete data set. All the same, word of mouth has Speaker as showing himself to be a pretty good hitter with Cleburne. Enough that he found himself catching on with another Texas League team a year later and then sold to the American League’s Boston Americans later in the same year. We have an entire career of Speaker being a good hitter to choose from, which gives me no reason to doubt the reports that he was a good hitter for Cleburne.

Speaker was never a true two-way player, he was more of a pitcher who gave that up and started playing the field. Still, by the definition I have adopted of what constitutes a two-way player Speaker meets the criteria. For one season in the minor leagues, Tris Speaker was a two-way player. He wasn’t a very good pitcher and the baseball world ended up all the better for him giving up on toeing the rubber. I guess being considered one of the best hitters to ever live means Speaker panned out as a position player.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Unknown

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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