Profile by BCB reader Kegler
FIGHTER! LEADER! BASE-CLOGGER! CUB!
Born on November 23, 1878 in Upper Chanceford Township, Pennsylvania, Samuel James Tilden "Jimmy" Sheckard was named after a popular political figure of his day (Tilden, governor of New York, lost the 1876 presidential election to Rutherford B. Hayes in a dispute that wound up being settled in the House of Representatives). This sort of thing was common in those days (see "Grover Cleveland Alexander", for example).
Jimmy Sheckard may or may not fit the profile of a classic Cub acquisition. You know the one: seemingly great hitter with a couple off years comes to the Cubs, supposedly a change of scenery will do the trick, only to continue being the player he'd always been.
And the player Sheckard had always been was, well, a mediocre hitter who had a couple of good years. He'd hit .354 in 1901 with Brooklyn, and then .332 only two years later. Great numbers. But then, in 1904, he put up this: .239/.317/.314. Did I hear a "Neifi" in the back, or did someone sneeze? Gesundheit, either way.
Of course, after a couple of "down" years, the Cubs figured they could remedy his downslide and find that .350 hitter of yore. Y'know, it's the scenery! But remember, too, that the Cubbies weren't playing at beautiful Wrigley just yet. And so in December of '05, the Cubs traded four players and a couple grand to the Superbas (one of the great names that should still be extant, though I must admit my eyes keep seeing "Superbras"; I don't know why. I apologize.)
The reason that Sheckard may or may not fit the classic bum signing we've seen our Cubs indulge in far too often is not because he ended up hitting again when he became a Cub. After all, his highest average during his Cubs tenure was only .276, in 1911. But Jimmy did manage this: he was on the team that won back-to-back series rings (and made it to another two series that they lost). Did they even give out rings back then? Regardless, the Cubs team Jimmy played for would go down in history as the apex of the organization's success. Here we are, an even 100 years later, and, well, let's forget about it and get back to Mr. Sheckard, eh? Incidentally, did you know he was one of only a few Pennsylvania Dutch to ever play major league baseball? Imagine an Amish guy making the big leagues these days. I envision scheduling issues.
Anyway, the question, of course, is how much did Jimmy Sheckard have to do with the success of those Cubs teams? If he wasn't doing it with his bat, maybe he was contributing in ways that don't show up in the box scores or the fancy/ethereal numbers cooked up by our boys in the Sabermetrics Department across the hall.
By all accounts, Sheckard was a team leader that had an innate ability to get under the opposition's skin. And while a player with that talent can be quite useful, it didn't seem to counter the 0-for-21 he put up against the Sox in the '06 series. But still, with that performance Jimmy was just establishing himself as a surety: you could always count on Sheckard for inconsistency. As I've pointed out, his average fluctuated wildly early in his career, from the mid-.300s to as low as .239. His OBP rose and fell with the same disregard for expectation or historical record.
But you can deal with players like that when you're winning. I might not even have cared about Neifi playing every game for us if we'd been in first. Winning is a great cure for many things. And there are all kinds of ways to win. Sheckard may have found himself simply in the right place at the right time, a coincidence which he'd pay for with his life many years later, or maybe it was that he fit perfectly into the "S" outfield of those Cub teams (with Schulte and Slagle the other two) that found as many ways to win as our current club finds ways to lose.
The one aspect of Sheckard's game that flowered late in his career and which we can be most appreciative of is his ability to draw bases on balls. Oh, it makes me smile to imagine Dusty cringing and wringing his hands as Sheckard walks yet again in 1911, leading to a then NL record 147 walks that season (and an OBP of .434(!)). He led the league in BBs that year and in 1912 before dropping off the next year and out of baseball soon thereafter. For two seasons he was one of the most base-cloggingest players ever; certainly he was one of the Cubs' greatest cloggers. And for that, I'd drink to him. Long live Jimmy Sheckard! The born clogger, being Dutch and all (as a friend pointed out).
But wait. Jimmy experienced his share of adversity, too. I can't be done quite yet.
Sheckard, being a leader and adversary, found himself in scuffles from time to time, but none was as serious as the one in 1908. That season, the Cubs' second consecutive world championship affair, Sheckard began battling it out with Heinie Zimmerman (note: it'd be wise, probably, to never find oneself in a brawl against a man named "Heinie" if you ever want to see the sun rise again). At some point during the fight, Zimmerman threw a bottle of ammonia - and remember, no plastics back then - that hit Sheckard right in the face. Ammonia splattered all over his face, and he was lucky that he didn't lose sight permanently in his left eye.
The Cubs, as was and is their MO, tried to cover up the incident (see? Our version of the Cubbies really isn't much different than the teams of old), but after Sheckard couldn't suit up for several weeks the truth got out. The truth always gets out.
Besides getting on the opposition, fighting, and clogging bases, Sheckard was a joker to boot. He used to do all kinds of things that left his fellow players and managers scratching their heads, things like spitting tobacco juice all over himself day in and day out as a manager, to the point where his socks were brown, and playing the outfield depending on where his glove lands after spinning around and tossing it into the air. He even sang baritone in a barbershop quartet with a few other players.
To be sure, Jimmy Sheckard was a colorful man. He may have been inconsistent on the field, but something made him a valuable piece of the greatest Cubs teams of all time. He was a catalyst, a piece of flint, the right mixture of ability, guile, and guts. Or he was just plain lucky. You decide.
In the years following his career, his colors began to fade. He made some poor decisions that slowly took him out of the game for good. Then in 1929, like a lot of Americans, he lost just about everything in the stock market. For years he carted around huge milk containers for farmers in the Lancaster, PA area, which was close to where he was born. And in January of 1947, he was crossing the street to go to work as a gas station attendant when he was struck by a car. He died three days later, but his base-clogging heritage would live on.
NL Record Sheckard Held (long since broken):
- Most Bases on Balls in a Season - 147 (1911)