Chicago White Sox
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
Douglas @ Baseball-Reference.com
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