New York Giants Catching Pioneer: Roger Bresnahan (1902-1908)

Roger Philip Bresnahan was born on June 11, 1879 in Toledo Ohio. The fiery player was known as “The Duke of Tralee” because of his Irish ancestry.

The five foot, nine inch two hundred pound right handed began his career at the turn of the 20th Century as a pitcher. He pitched for the Washington Senators (1897) & Baltimore Orioles (1901).

By 1902 he jumped over to the National League with John McGraw & Iron Joe McGinnity to the New York Giants . He would end up playing all infield & outfield positions in New York at one time or another. In New York for John McGraw's Giants, Brenahan became a pioneer catcher, introducing catching gear at the MLB level.

He is credited with inventing shin guards & being the first catcher to use them in an actual game. He also created a leather type batting helmet after he suffered a severe beaning in 1908.

These protective items were slowly being introduced in college play in the early 20th Century, but Bresnahan was the first to use them at the major league level. Because he was a first at doing something different, he was taunted by opposing players in those days. But it didn’t bother Bresnahan.

Giants Manager & friend John McGraw called him one of the best catchers in the game, and one of the toughest to steal on. He threw out 42% of would be base stealer every season he played in New York (1902-1908) & led the league in that category in 1905, nailing 55%. He was second in the league in turning double plays, as well as in passed balls two times each.

He was lucky enough to be a battery mate of the great Christy Mathewson for many of his pitching feats. Even though he was a catcher his abilities made him quick enough to bat in the leadoff spot, during an age when speed was most important over power. He would hit over .300 twice; batting .350 in 1903 (fourth in the NL) with a .443 on base % (second in the NL). That year he also stole 34 bases, hit 30 doubles, eight triples, 4 HRs & drove in 55 runs.

In the Giants 1905 Championship season he batted .302 (tenth in the NL) with a .411 on base %. He hit 18 doubles drove in 46 runs & stole 11 bases in 104 games.

Post Season: In was in that World Series against Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's, that he made history, being the catcher behind the plate when Christy Mathewson tossed three World Series shut outs in the same week.

In Game #1 Bresnahan scored the Series first run, crossing the plate on a Turkey Mike Donlin single. Bresnahan had two hits & drove in a run in the top of the 9th inning, off Eddie Plank in the Giants 3-0 win. Overall he hit .315 (5-16) in his only World Series Championship.

He hit over .280 five times in his six & a half years with the Giants, was among the league’s top ten batting leaders, three times & the top five in on base % six times in his career. He continued to have a great ability to get on base, by any means he could.

In 1906 he led the league in hit by pitches (15) while posting a .419 on base %. (Second in the NL). In 1908 he led the NL in walks (83) while batting .283 & posting a .401 on base %. (third in the league).

In 1909 the Giants traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals where he played for four years, mostly in a backup role. In 1913 he went to play for the Chicago Cubs, retiring after the 1915 season.

In his 17 year career he batted .279 with 1252 hits 26 HRs 530 RBIs 218 doubles 71 triples a .386 on base % & 212 stolen bases. Behind the plate he caught 974 games, throwing out 44% of would be base stealers, posting a .965 fielding %. He made 1995 assists (25th all time) turning 96 double plays (65th all time) while committing 167 errors (60th all time).

Hero: On July 11th, 1911 the Cardinals were on a train to Boston, when the train derailed & fell eighteen feet off an embankment, near Bridgeport, Connecticut. Although 14 people were killed, Bresnahan & his team mates survived, helping rescue some of the injured survivors. Afterward they also helped to remove some of the dead bodies. Before the train ride began it was Bresnahan that requested a change in location of Pullman cars, where the Cardinals were to be seated. At the time he was the team’s player manager (1909-1912).

Retirement: He would also managed the Chicago Cubs for two seasons while still being an active player. In 1916 he returned to his hometown of Toledo Ohio & purchased a baseball team that later became the legendary, Toledo Mud hens.

In 1925 he returned to New York and coached the New York Giants for three more seasons under his former manager John McGraw. Bresnahan passed away from a heart attack at his home in Toledo, Ohio in 1944 at age 65.

Honors: He is considered one of the greatest catchers of all time, & was enshrined at Cooperstown in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945.


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