James Charles Jacob Bagby Sr. (Sarge)
Starting Pitcher, 1916-1922
Height: 6'0" Weight: 170 lbs
Throws: Both; Bats: Right
How Acquired: Purchased July 22, 1915 from New Orleans Pelicans (Southern Association)
Left Via: Waivers, November 5, 1922: By the Pittsburgh Pirates
Bagby was born in Barnett, Georgia, a small town about 50 miles west of Augusta in 1889. Not much is known about his early life, but he is thought to have had at least one brother and sister. He makes his first baseball appearance for the hometown Augusta Tourists in the Sally League (Class C) in 1910 at the age of 20. After only three games, he moves over to the Hattiesburg (MS) Timberjacks of the Cotton States League (Class D) where he pitches another 19 games.
In 1911 for Hattiesburg, he went 22-16 with a 2.27 ERA in 41 games, but also played 35 games in the field and batted .255 with a .370 slugging pct. His strong season landed him with the Montgomery (AL) Billikens of the Southern Association (Class A) for four starts late in the season, where he went 3-1 and had a 2.32 ERA. The Cincinnati Reds thought enough of his numbers that he made his debut on April 22, pitching six innings of relief. He was used sparingly, making only one start and five appearances with a decent 3.12 ERA (111 ERA+) total before landing back with Montgomery. That team had been renamed the Rebels in 1912 and he made only 12 appearances for them after his demotion from the Reds.
At some point in 1913, the New Orleans Pelicans got a hold of Bagby and his numbers between the two were pretty good, 2.73 ERA in 20 games. But he also played 44 games in the field, most likely as an outfielder. He was 20-14 with a 2.20 ERA in 1914 and 19-16 with a 2.15 ERA in 42 games in 1915. As the Pelicans were a de facto farm club for the Indians, they bought his contract in July 1915, but he wouldn't make his Cleveland debut until the following season.
He made a three inning relief appearance on April 12, 1916, but would only last three innings in his first start on the 16th. He got a relief win on the 24th and a save on the 26th before heading back to the rotation. He got the win in Detroit on the 30th, but didn't pitch all that well. But the subsequent start against Detroit on May 8th was a complete game 3-1 win. He finished 1916 as a swing starter, making 27 starts with 14 complete games and 3 shutouts. He also made 21 relief appearances with 5 saves. He rarely walked anyone (2.2 BB/9) but also didn't strike anyone out (2.9 K/9), but finished with a very good 1.174 WHIP.
He became a full time starter in 1917 and would have arguably his best seasons as a pro, going 23-13 with a 1.99 ERA (142 ERA+) with 37 starts, 26 complete games, 8 shutouts, 12 relief appearances and 7 saves. He only allowed 7.8 H/9 and pitches a whopping 320.2 innings. It was during this season he was nicknamed Sarge. Now this being World War I, most people thought it was a reference to the military, but he received it from his teammates after they attended a Broadway Play that had a Sergeant Jimmy Bagby character.
He continued to be a workhorse in 1918 and 1919, but his numbers weren't quite as good. But he also had flashes of brilliance, including two extra inning shutout wins in 1918 and completing 44 of his 63 starts those two seasons. But while 1917 was his best season from a true stat perspective (such as ERA, ERA+), the next year would be special for a number of reasons.
By 1920, the Indians franchise had been in contention for the previous three years. Heading into 1920, they knew they had a pretty good shot at finally winning their first pennant. By the end of May, they were 26-11 and 3.5 games up. And Bagby had a big hand in that start. He started 10 games, usually on three days rest, and went 9-0 with nine complete games. The team faltered a little in June, 17-11, which coincided with Bagby's bad month, seven starts, 4-2, 4 complete games and a 4.50 ERA. Heading into July the Indians were tied in first and reeled off 22 wins in 32 games, but only gained 3 games in the standings. But Bagby regained his groove, seven starts, six complete games (with one shutout), 4-2, and 2.26 ERA. He threw another six compelte games in August, but the Tribe had their worst month, 11-16, and headed into September with just a half game lead. The Indians were electric in September, 20-6, but only picked up one game in the standings. Bagby had his best month, going 4-2 in eight starts, six more complete games, two back to back shutouts, and a 2.22 ERA. With two games to go and a two game lead, Bagby clinched the title on October 2, scattering 11 Detroit hits in a complete game 10-1 victory.
His totals from 1920 are extraordinary, 31-12 overall, 48 total appearances, 38 starts, 30 complete games, 339.2 inning pitches and 2.89 ERA (133 ERA+). He led the league in wins, percentage, complete games (duh) and innings pitched. He likely would have won the Cy Young had it existed back then. He accumulated an 8.4 WAR season as well. He aslo slashed a very good 252/285/374 71 OPS+ line as a hitter.
Now that the Indians had won the pennant, they got to finally taste the World Series. That season, it was a best of nine. Bagby started Game 2, but lost 3-0 to Burleigh Grimes and the Brooklyn Robins. With the Series knotted at two apiece, Bagby took the hill for an epic Game 5. In the bottom of the first, Elmer Smith staked Bagby to a 4-0 lead on the very first grand slam in Series history. In the bottom of the fourth, Bagby extended the lead to 7-0 with the first ever Series home run by a pitcher. Before the game manager Tris Speaker was advising him how to pitch with the newly configured centerfield bleachers installed for the Series. Bagby replied, "I think I'll bust one out to those wooden seats. They seem just about right for me to hit". And then in the top of the fifth, Bill Wambsganss had the famous unassisted triple play. Bagby pitched a complete game, allowing one run in the ninth and scattering 13 hits. The Indians won the next two and were World Series Champs.
But that heavy workload over those past three seasons finally caught up to Bagby in 1921. He only made 26 starts, was 14-12 and a 4.70 ERA (91 ERA+), usually trying to pitch through a sore arm. By 1922, his arm was done, a 6.32 ERA (64 ERA+) in only 10 starts and 25 appearances. That winter, he was claimed on waivers by the Pirates. He was a little better in 1923, but only made 6 starts and had a 5.24 ERA in 21 total appearances. He bounced around the minor leagues for the next seven seasons, Seattle Indians, Atlanta Crackers, Rochester Tribe, Jersey City Skeeters, Newark Bears, York White Roses and Monroe Drillers. He retired in 1931 at the age of 41.
In retirement, he ran a dry cleaning business and a gas station before heading back to the diamond in 1941 as an umpire in the Coastal Plain League. He was umpiring in the Piedmont League in 1942 when he had a massive stroke. He passed away in Marietta, GA in 1954. He did live long enough to see his son become an All-Star pitcher for the Indians in the 1940s. When Bagby Jr. played in the World Series in 1946 with the Red Sox, they became the first father-son combo to have that achievement.
SABR Biography Project, Stephen Constantelos
Indians Career Stats
|CLE (7 yrs)||122||86||.587||3.03||290||201||81||131||16||26||1735.2||1772||714||584||39||424||424||32||0||19||7088||112||1.265||9.2||0.2||2.2||2.2||1.00|
- AL WAR: 3rd, 1917-8.7; 3rd, 1920-8.9
- AL WAR Pitchers: 2nd, 1920-8.4; 3rd, 1917-8.3; 4th, 1918-4.3; 10th, 1919-4.0
- AL ERA: 5th, 1920-2.89; 6th, 19187-1.99
- AL Wins: 1st, 1920-31; 3rd, 1917-23; 5th, 1918-17; 8th, 1919-17
- AL W/L Percentage: 1st, 1920-.721; 8th, 1917-.639
- AL WHIP: 4th, 1920-1.228; 7th, 1917-1.091
- AL Hits/9 IP: 10th, 1920-8.956
- AL Bases on Balls/9 IP: 3rd, 1919-1.641; 3rd, 1920-2.093; 4th, 1921-2.066; 5th, 1917-2.049; 8th, 1916-2.212; 184th-Career-2.263
- AL Games Played: 1st-1918-45; 1st-1920-48; 2nd-1917-49; 5th-1916-48
- AL Saves: 2nd-1917-7; 2nd-1918-6; 3rd-1921-4; 4th-1916-5; 5th-1919-3
- AL Innings: 1st, 1920-339.2; 4th, 1917-320.2; 6th, 1918-271.1
- AL Games Started: 2nd-1920-38; 3rd-1917-37; 5th-1918-31; 5th-1919-32
- AL Complete Games: 1st-1920-30; 5th-1917-26; 7th-1918-23; 9th-1919-21
- AL Shutouts: 2nd, 1917-8; 7th, 1916-3; 7th, 1920-3
- AL Home Runs: 2nd, 1917-6; 8th, 1921-14; 10th, 1920-9
- AL Bases on Balls: 8th, 1918-78
- AL Hits: 1st-1917-277; 1st-1920-338; 3rd-1918-274; 5th-1919-258; 6th-1916-253
- AL Home Runs/9 IP: 1st, 1918-0.000; 6th, 1919-0.112; 8th, 1920-0.239; 213th, Career-0.232
- AL Losses: 3rd, 1916-17; 6th, 1918-16
- AL Earned Runs: 4th, 1918-81; 8th, 1916-79; 8th, 1920-109
- AL Wild Pitches: 8th, 1916-7; 9th, 1920-6
- AL Hit By Pitch: 7th, 1916-8
- AL Games Finished: 2nd, 1916-19; 5th, 1918-14
- AL Adjusted Era+: 4th, 1917-142; 5th, 1920-133
Cleveland Indians Career Leader
- t-12th WAR Pitchers (29.0)
- 19th ERA (3.03)
- 11th Wins (122)
- 21st W/L Percentage (.587)
- t-23rd WHIP (1.265)
- 10th Bases on Balls/9 IP (2.199)
- t-21st Games Played (290)
- t-22nd Saves (26)
- 12th Innings Pitched (1735.2)
- 47th Strikeouts (424)
- 13th Games Started (201)
- 10th Complete Games (131)
- t-13th Shutouts (16)
- 26th Bases on Balls (424)
- 11th Hits (1772)
- 19th HR/9 IP (0.202)
- t-14th Losses (86)
- 15th Earned Runs (584)
- t-20th Hit By Pitch (32)
- 29th Games Finished (81)
- t-29th ERA+ (112)
Cleveland Indians Season Leader
- t-9th Pitching WAR (8.4, 1920)
- t-12th Pitching WAR (8.3, 1917)
- 20th ERA (1.99, 1917)
- 1st Wins (31, 1920)
- t-14th Wins (23, 1917)
- 36th W/L Percentage (.721, 1920)
- 34th WHIP (1.091, 1917)
- 25th Bases on Balls/9 IP (1.641, 1919)
- 6th Innings Pitched (339.2, 1920)
- t-11th Innings Pitched (320.2, 1917)
- t-10th Games Started (38, 1920)
- t-16th Games Started (37, 1917)
- t-10th Complete Games (30, 1920)
- t-30th Complete Games (26, 1917)
- t-41st Complete Games (23, 1918)
- 7th Shutouts (8, 1917)
- 3rd Hits (338, 1920)
- t-35th Hits (277, 1917)
- t-39th Hits (274, 1918)
- 22nd HR/9 IP (0.066, 1916)
- t-10th Losses (17, 1916)
- t-23rd Losses (16, 1918)
- t-44th Earned Runs (109, 1920)