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Banished: "Shufflin'" Phil Douglas

Career Paths
Marcus' Memoirs


Chicago White Sox 
Cincinnati Reds
Brooklyn Robins 1915
Chicago Cubs 1915-19
New York Giants

The story of "Shufflin' Phil" Douglas is one that remains surrounded in mystery.  Possessed with tremendous talent, Douglas could never overcome the demons of his alcoholism and, despite flashes of brilliance, never realized his full potential.  Late in the 1922 season, Douglas sent an ill-conceived, puzzling letter to a friend which led to his expulsion from the game.

Phillip Brooks Douglas was born on June 17, 1890 in Cedartown, GA.  He made his major league debut twenty-two years later with the Chicago White Sox.  After spending the 1913 season in the minors, Douglas surfaced with Cincinnati in 1914.  From there he was sent to Brooklyn in 1915, and eventually to the Chicago Cubs later that season.

With the Cubs, Douglas solidified himself as a major league pitcher.  Using his trademark spit ball, he appeared in 101 games in three seasons, before being shipped to the New York Giants late in the 1919 campaign.  By this time, Douglas had gained the reputation as a heavy drinker, and many began to doubt he would ever be a consistent pitcher.

Legendary Giants' manager John McGraw attempted to institute some discipline into the rowdy pitcher's life.  He reportedly hired former player Jesse Burkett to escort Douglas to and from the team hotel.  Nothing worked however, as Douglas kept drinking and a rift began to develop between the manager and the talented hurler.

In 1920, the spit baller posted his best season to date, fashioning a 14-10 record and outstanding 2.71 ERA.  Following the season, the two leagues got together and decided to ban the use of the spit ball, allowing only those pitchers that had already been using it to continue.  Nine players, including Douglas, were allowed to throw the pitch until the end of their careers.

In 1921, "Shufflin' Phil" (the origins of the nickname remain a mystery) won 15 games for McGraw, and the Giants captured the NL Pennant.  They would face the the cross-town Yankees  in World Series, who were making their first appearance in the Fall Classic.  That Series proved to be the pinnacle of Douglas' career, as he won two games for the victorious Giants, posting a 2.08 ERA.

By 1922, Douglas' drinking was out of control and his already rocky relationship with McGraw was severely strained when McGraw had Douglas "kidnapped" and taken to an undisclosed location for a brutal "drying out" process.  Not even Douglas' family knew of his whereabouts.

The off-the-field turmoil didn't affect Douglas' performance on the mound however, as he raced out to an 11-4 start with a league leading 2.63 ERA for the first place Giants.  Then, on August 8, his feud with McGraw finally reached a boiling point, and the manager suspended the star pitcher and fined him $100.

Shortly after, Douglas sent the following letter to Cardinals OF Les Mann, whom he considered a friend:

I want to leave here but I want some inducement.  I don't want this guy (John McGraw) to win the pennant and I feel if I stay here I will win it for him.  If you want to send a man over here with the goods, I will leave for home on (the) next train.  I will go down to fishing camp and stay there.

At the time he wrote it, Douglas was upset and under the influence of the alcohol.  When he finally sobered up, Douglas frantically tried to contact Mann, retract the offer, and get the letter destroyed.  It was too late.  Mann, whose Cardinals were in second place, turned the letter over to team president Branch Rickey, who then passed it on to commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.  Landis, who made his name as a judge in a democratic society, ruled baseball like a fascist.  When Douglas confessed to writing the letter on August 16, he was banned from baseball for life.

During his career, Douglas compiled a 94-93 record and 2.80 ERA in 9 seasons.  The details of his post baseball life are sketchy.  It is unclear if he ever applied for reinstatement.  On August 1, 1952, "Shufflin' Phil" Douglas died in Sequatchie, TN at the age of 62.

-David Zingler, November 2003


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