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Harry Elbert Bay
(Nickname: Deer Foot)
Center Fielder, 1902-1908
Height: 5'8" Weight: 138 lbs
Throws: Left Bats: Left
Acquired: Free Agent, 5-20-1902
Left Via: Release, 1908
Harry Bay didn't have a long career thanks to injuries, but during his short prime he was one of the best speedsters of the Deadball Era.
Born in Pontiac, Illinois, Bay moved to Peoria as a child and joined the sandlot leagues there. In high school, Bay starred in baseball and track. After he graduated from high school, he barnstormed throughout the Midwest for a few years, catching the attention of professional clubs. Bay was a very small man, even by standards of those times, but he was also very fast and a very good defensive outfielder. He bounced around the minors*, ending up with the still-minor-league** Detroit Tigers in 1900. After starting the season with the Indianapolis Hoosiers of the Western Association, the Cincinnati Reds acquired him in July, and he made his major-league debut on July 23.
Bay did not jump to the American League like Elmer Flick and Nap Lajoie did; the Reds released him just a couple games into the 1902 season because he frankly didn't play well. He hit .225/.295/.275 in 47 games with the Reds, and as with all fast ballplayers down through the years, if he didn't get to first base, he couldn't steal any. Luckily for him, the Cleveland Bronchos had a raft of injuries and needed an outfielder. Almost immediately after getting cut by the Reds, Cleveland signed him.
After a very poor inaugural season, Cleveland had started slow in 1902, but they had made some major acquisitions, including both Elmer Flick in mid-May. But injuries to Flick and starting left fielder Jack McCarthy left the Bronchos extremely short-handed, so they signed Bay as stopgap measure. Bay took advantage of his second opportunity, and by the time Bay and McCarthy were healthy, Bay was moved to center field, taking the place of Ollie Pickering. Bay was getting on base this time, so he was able to steal 22 bases in 108 games. He also gained plaudits for his play in center field. So after the 1902 season, Cleveland sold Pickering to the Philadelphia Athletics, and Bay had a lock on center field.
1903 was quite a season for Cleveland; it was the first full season for Lajoie and Flick, Addie Joss, Earl Moore, and Bill Bernhard (who was also one of the Philadelphia refugees) all had outstanding seasons. Harry Bay hit leadoff, and had one of his best seasons, hitting .290/.343/.334 and leading the league with 45 stolen bases. Still, the Naps finished in third place***, 15 games behind the Boston Americans for a berth in the first World Series. But with most of their key players in the prime of their career, it seemed that the future was bright.
|Player||Position||1903 OPS+/ERA+||1903 Age|
And it was, as Cleveland would finish above .500 each season from 1904-1909 with one exception. Bay again led the league in steals in 1904 with 38, but his batting average and on-base percentage dipped to .241/.307. He had his best season in 1905, in which he hit .301/.349/.370, stole 36 bases, and appeared in 144 games. But a knee injury incurred late in that season would be his undoing. Bay made a career for himself thanks to his legs, so when his legs gave out, his career was essentially over. He only appeared in 68 games in 1906, having lost his starting job. He was again a bench player in 1907, as his ability to steal bases and make plays in center field had largely evaporated. He was sold to Nashville (Southern Assoc.) just a couple games into the 1908 season.
Bay played with Nashville from 1908-1911, then became a player-manager for several clubs in lesser leagues. After he retired in 1917, he moved back to Peoria, where worked as a auto license examiner by day and played cornet/trumpet in bands at night. He toured with Guy Kibbee on the vaudeville circuit, and was the bandleader at the local Apollo theater. Bay died in 1952 at age 74.
*At this time, the minor-league teams and leagues were completely independent of the major-league clubs (though some major-league managers also owned minor-league clubs). So although a player who showed promise would probably end up with a major-league club, that didn't always happen right away. In Bay's case, it did, with him going from the Tigers in 1900 (at age 22) to the Reds in 1901 (at age 23), but other players played a portion or most of their prime in the minors. Those clubs, as long as they were making money, weren't obligated to sell their top stars to major-league clubs, so you had players like Earl Averill or Lefty Grove playing several seasons in the minors even after it was readily apparent that they would do well at the major-league level. Just something to keep in mind while reading about players' careers in the 1900s-1930s.
**In 1900, the American League was still a minor league, but plans were already in place for the league to jump to major league status in 1901. AL clubs were already starting to accumulate top players, so that Bay latched on with the Tigers in 1900 showed how much he was thought of.
***They probably would have beaten out the Athletics for second, only Flick and Lajoie couldn't play road games in Philadelphia because of a legal injunction made in the wake of their jumping to the American League.
Indians Career Stats
|CLE (7 yrs)||628||2765||2467||385||683||64||40||4||137||165||180||257||.277||.330||.340||.670||105||839||102|
AL Batting Average: 3rd, 1903
AL On-Base Percentage: 7th, 1905
AL Games Played: 4th, 1903
AL At Bats: 2nd, 1903
AL Offensive WAR: 10th, 1905
AL Hits: 4th, 1903; 5th, 1905
AL Total Bases: 9th, 1905
AL Triples: 10th, 1903
AL Stolen Bases: 1st, 1903; 1st, 1904; 5th, 1905
David Jones ed., Deadball Stars of the American League
Sporting News, 1902
Greater Peoria Hall of Fame, "Harry Bay."