Friday, July 11, 2014

The Bad News Bees, Part 2b, Harl Maggert

Caught red-handed taking bribe money

(Part 1 of this series, detailing the involvement of Gene Dale in the 1919 Pacific Coast League gambling scandal, was presented here on June 14-15. An introduction that will help you pick up the story was presented on those days.)

(Continued from yesterday)

Maggert appears in the Zeenuts candy cards of Pacific
Coast League players in 1911, 1913-17 and 1920.
Harl Maggert

Maggert spent the 1913-17 seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, generally playing center field and batting lead-off. He returned to the P.C.L. with a flourish, hitting .316 in 1913, second-best among players in more than 100 games. He either led the league or was tied in games played, runs scored and triples. His 18 home runs and 89 stolen bases were each second-best in the circuit. He was fourth in hits and doubles. His fielding was in the top half of the class. Despite Maggert’s stats, the Seraphs finished fifth in the six-team league.

In 1914 the Angels came in second though Maggert’s personal numbers were down in most categories. He still led the league with 127 runs, and was among the top six in games, hits and three-baggers. Batting .288, he fielded among the top 10.

Maggert rebounded to break the .300 batting barrier in 1915 (.307), leading the league with 14 triples and 147 runs plated. He was tied for third with 55 steals, was fourth-best in games and at-bats, tied for fifth with a dozen home runs and was ninth with 226 hits. Maggert also led the league’s outfielders with 24 errors, his fielding average the worst among outfielders in more than 75 games. The Angels finished third that season.

The 1916 season was again fairly undistinguished for Maggert, though the Angels copped the pennant that year. Batting .274, Maggert cracked the top 10 lists in only two categories. His 42 stolen bases were fourth, and he had the seventh-best fielding average for outfielders in more than 150 games.

The Angels dropped back to second place in 1917, and Maggert’s stats dropped in every category. He hit just .256. Maggert suffered from sore knees much of the season and also from a suspension by manager Frank Chance, who fined him and set him down for beating up the club’s trainer.

By the time the 1918 season rolled around, ballplayers were getting mighty scarce in the P.C.L., as in other pro leagues. Many of the players who were not volunteers or draftees into the armed forces for World War I had taken war-industry jobs either to keep out of Uncle Sam’s uniform or for the high pay, Maggert, at 35, was above draft age. He was sold to San Francisco in early April, just prior to the opening of the season. Los Angeles felt it could afford to let Maggert go as they had just signed 19-year major league veteran and future Hall of Famer Sam Crawford.

Again, The Sporting News was unenthusiastic. “Harl Maggert is not likely to be of much use to San Francisco,” the paper commented. “He has a bad knee, too susceptible to injury and the deal for him was just so much energy and money wasted.”

Maggert had no problems playing out the season with the Seals in 1918, but the season was cut short due to the war, ending in mid-July. His .247 batting average was the lowest in Maggert’s pro career since his debut season, though he did manage to steal 19 bases in 86 games. Fielding records were not released by the league for the war-shortened 1918 season.

With the P.C.L. season on hiatus, Maggert played semi-pro ball. Just prior to the opening of the 1919 season he was traded by San Francisco to Salt Lake City for third baseman Karl Crandall.

The Sporting News finally gave Maggert a positive review. S.L.C. baseball beat writer Walter Bratz said Maggert was “for years one of the best outfielders in the league. He has no superiors at fly chasing, and until last season he always hit well and was a demon on the bases. But an injured leg handicapped him in 1918 and he did not show his old-time class. His leg is bothering him no more and he looks to be as good as of old,” Bratz concluded.

Maggert rebounded in all offensive categories in 1919. He hit .274 and again led the league with 127 runs scored. He was tied for fifth with 37 doubles and fielded in the top half of the league’s outfielders.

While Maggert hit .274 against the league, he batted only .213 for the season against Vernon. When the teams first met in April in Utah, Maggert hit .263 as the Bees took three of the five games in the series.

In an eight-game set at Vernon in early July, Maggert hit just .176, though Salt Lake won five and tied one of the games. It is unlikely that Maggert and the Bees were trying to throw the pennant to Vernon at that point in the season. With more than two months remaining, Vernon was in second place and S.L.C. was still in the race, in fourth.

By mid-September the Bees had moved up to third place, less than 10 games behind Vernon and Los Angeles, who were tied for the league lead. In home-and-home series with Vernon between Sept. 16-28, the Bees had plenty of opportunity to shape their own destiny, especially after winning the first two games in Salt Lake City. 

Whether or not those first two games were on the square will never be known. They may have been intended as losses but won by luck or design. Maggert hit .333 with a triple in those contests. In the remainder of the games at hone against the Tigers, the Bees were 1-4; Maggert hit .227. At some point, however, Maggert and a few teammates decided to take the sure-thing money offered by Borton as opposed to taking a chance on winning the pennant with its attendant bonus pool promised by the local fans.

The series moved to Vernon on Sept. 23 for six games. The Bees won the opener, then lost the next five. Maggert was 4-for-24 (.167) with a double and an error in Vernon.
When the Bees and Tigers concluded their season series, Salt Lake City was 13-1/2 games out, but retained their hold on third place. Vernon and Los Angeles met in a season-ending series with the Tigers down by two and a half games. They put a hurt on the Angels in the final games of the season, however, splitting an Oct 1 doubleheader, then sweeping the final five games to win the pennant and a $10,000 bonus offered by their fans. The Vernon players also split an $8,000 winners’ share for beating St. Paul in the “Little World Series.” For their efforts, Maggert, Dale and Rumler got an under-the-table taste of the winnings.

There is evidence that Borton, abetting Nate Raymond and blackballed major leaguer Hal Chase, continued to fix games in the Pacific Coast League through the 1920 season. Whether or not Maggert was a party to the thrown games is unknown.

The record shows Maggert, at age 37, was having one of the best seasons of his career in 1920 prior to his banishment. Unofficial figures – the official P.C.L. stats were purged of the accomplishments of Maggert and other crooked ballplayers – show Maggert hit .370 in 115 games. Teammate Earl Sheeley led the league that season with a .371 mark.

With Maggert and Rumler removed from the team, Salt Lake City fell from first place on July 18 to fifth by the end of the season.

Little record of Maggert is found after he was banned from Organized Baseball. He went into the coal business in the L.A. area with his father-in-law, for whom he had worked in the off-seasons, and died in Fresno, Calif., just short of his 80th birthday in 1963.

Second-generation Maggert

also made the major leagues

Eighteen years after his father was blacklisted by Organized Baseball, Harl Warren Maggert, made it briefly to the major leagues.

The younger Maggert spent the 1938 season with Boston in the National League. Coincidentally, during the time when Maggert was with Boston, the team was known as the Bees. He’d earned the promotion after batting .339 with 30 homers in the Piedmont League in 1936 and .344 with 23 home runs in 1937.

Playing a little bit in the outfield and around third base, Maggert led the N.L. that season with 43 at-bats as a pinch-hitter, producing the desired result 10 times (a pinch-hit average of .233). Overall he batted .281 in 66 games. Three of his 25 major league hits were doubles and three were home runs. He had 19 RBIs, walked 10 times and struck out 20 times.

The younger Maggert played five seasons in the minors between 1933-39.

(Editor’s Note: This series on the disgraced Salt Lake City Bees of 1919 will conclude next month with Bill Rumler’s story, which somebody really should make into a movie.)

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