Friday, July 8, 2011

Great Names in Baseball: Malachi Jeddidah Kittridge

Like any real 'merican, I enjoy a solid Biblical name. And also like any real 'merican, I love baseball. So I really enjoy it when baseball players have solid Biblical names. From throwbacks like Hall-of-Famers Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown1 and Zachariah "Zack" Wheat to mid-century mediocre pitchers Saul Rogovin and Zebulon "Red" Eaton2 to modern-day trainwrecks like Hiram "Kyle" Davies and Elijah "All-Around Great Guy" Dukes.

But those names all pale in comparison to the majestic moniker of 16-year veteran Malachi Jeddidah Kittridge3. Like many of the other Great Names in baseball, Kittridge fell short of being a superstar. And like Boileryard Clarke, "Jedediah" Kittridge was a backup catcher. He straddled the Liveball Era of the late 1800s and and the Deadball Era of the early 1900s, though his batting numbers lean toward the Deadball type: His career slash line is .219/.277/.274, but his career spanned from 1890 to 1906.

His defense was average for the standards of a turn-of-the-century catcher, throwing out 39% of baserunners4. So what gives? Why keep him around for so long if he was average defensively and terrible at the plate?

Backup catchers hold a lot of value in the big leagues. They tend to be smart players who understand what goes into a game and how to get the most out of pitchers. In a sense, they become secondary managers, and many of them go on to become actual managers5. This includes Kittridge, who was briefly named manager of the 1904 Washington Senators. Unfortunately, his tenure as player-manager lasted only 17 games, of which the Senators won only 1.

Kittridge spent his early career with the Chicago Colts6 before playing stints with the Louisville Colonels, Washington Senators (the National League team), Boston Beaneaters, and the Washington Senators (the American League team). He was traded to the Cleveland Naps in 1906, where he only played 5 games before heading into the obscurity of the minor and independent leagues of the early 1900s. Kittridge played seasons or partial seasons with increasingly oddly named teams. They were, in chronological order: Montreal Royals, Dayton Veterans, Scranton Miners, Elgin (IL) Kittens (where he was apparently the only player), and, finally, the Saginaw Krazy Kats. He played his final baseball game at the age of 41.

With a history of mediocre-to-bad baseball and terrible managing, Kittridge suffered the ultimate indignity of dying in Gary, Indiana7, in 1923 at the age of 52. But, unless your name is Zebulon Gethsemane Ichabod, his gravestone probably looks a lot cooler than yours will.

1 How did "Three Finger" Brown get his nickname?
2 With a first name like "Zebulon," you'd think his teammates could have come up with a better nickname than "Red." But I guess he wasn't around the majors long enough to earn a nickname like Zebulon, God of Curve Balls. Oh, well.
3 Early baseball players are frequently found to have spelled their names a lot of different ways. . The player in question has also had his last name spelled "Kittredge" and "Kittridge" and has had his middle name spelled "Jedediah" and "Jeddidah."
4 39% of runners thrown out is actually excellent for a modern catcher. But baseball strategy has greatly changed. Without going into great detail, teams around 1900 tried to steal a lot more bases with just about anybody on the team, which led to lower stolen base percentages.
5 Many of MLB's current managers fit this bill: Ned Yost, Joe Girardi, Eric Wedge, Bob Melvin, Bruce Bochy, Clint Hurdle, and Mike Scioscia, though he was mostly a starting catcher.
6 Again, the Colts predated the Chicago Orphans, who became the Cubs.
7 Gary was probably a decent-enough industrial town in the first quarter of the 20th century. While it's not stated anywhere, it seems likely that Kittridge moved to Gary, where work was plentiful, to find a job after his playing career finally ended in 1911.

1 comment:

  1. 5 You forgot Bob Brenley, though he may have always been a starting catcher-turned-manager.

    Again, another great piece of baseball history.