Top 100 Indians: #38 Vean Gregg

Vean Gregg, at Hilltop Park (NY Highlanders) in 1912 - Library of Congress

LGT's countdown of the greatest players in franchise history continues with Vean Gregg, the first great left handed starter they ever had.

Sylveanus Augustus Gregg "Vean"

Starting Pitcher, 1911-1914

Height: 6'1" Weight: 185 lbs

Throws: Left; Bats: Right

How Acquired: Purchase, July 7, 1909 from Spokane Indians for $4500 and 2 players

Left Via: Trade, July 28, 1914: Traded to the Boston Red Sox for Fritz Coumbe, Ben Egan and Rankin Johnson

Sylveanus was born in the Washington territory in 1885 near the town of Chehalis. He was the third of nine children, to Charles and Mary Gregg. Charles had migrated from Pennsylvania before becoming a farmer but he also had a second income as a plasterer. When Vean was 11, the family moved to Lewiston, Idaho but less than a year late, they were back over the Snake River, in Clarkston, Washington, where their cherry orchard became one of the largest in the state. Vean attended Clarkston High (but did not graduate) and then earned a bookkeeping diploma from the Clarkston Community School in 1904. But instead of becoming a bookkeeper, he became a plasterer like his father.

And although he didn't play baseball for Clarkston High, he did eventually pitch for South Dakota State University for a bit. He was the only major leaguer from that school until Caleb Thielbar made it to the majors this year for the Twins. But Gregg was well known in Eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana as a star or hired guy for many amateur and semi-pro leagues. He was heavily pursued by the pro scouts, but Gregg felt the amount of money he made during the week as a plasterer and the added income from pitching on the weekends was more than he would make on any contract.

Finally in March, 1908, just before turning 23, he was finally persuaded to try out for the Spokane Indians of the Northwestern League. This team had an unofficial working agreement with Cleveland. The Indians offered a contract, but he declined, instead pitching for am industrial league team in Spokane for a bit, before heading down to Baker City, Oregon to pitch for the Nuggets of the Inland Empire League (Class D) in June. He won seven of his eight starts.

Spokane again pursued him in 1909, and he finally acquiesced, signing for $185 per month. Now the data for that season is incomplete, but he made 21 appearances. If those were all starts, he only allowed 2.8 runs per game and finished with a 6 and 13 record. More likely he relieved a few games, but it would still seem that he was a victim of poor run support. Jim "Deacon" McGuire who became a scout after playing one game for Cleveland in 1908, outbid the Tigers and Pirates with $4500 and two players on July 7, believed to be the highest amount paid for a player on the West Coast up to that time. (McGuire succeeded Nap Lajoie as manager later in 1909).

The Indians offered him $250 per month for 1910, but he stubbornly refused again. The Indians sold him on an option to the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League (an A League at that time, but the highest level). That season was one of the finest ever in PCL history. Gregg started 45 games, finished 32-18 with a miniscule 1.53 ERA and a massive 383.1 IP and a 0.944 WHIP. He also is reported to have had 379 strikeouts, 14 shutouts, four one-hitters and a no-hitter. In the no-hitter against the Los Angeles Angels, he struck out 14 batters, including 8 in a row.

Gregg obviously was ready for the majors and in 1911 at the age of 26, became a member of the Naps. He made two relief appearances before landing in the rotation. By the end of July, his record was a sparkling 18-3. His arm became sore late in the season and he was shut down in early September. Even with missing the final month, he made 26 starts, 22 of them complete games and five shutouts. He finished 23-7 with a 9.1 WAR and led the league in ERA (1.80), ERA+ (189), WHIP (1.054) and H/9 (6.3). He finished tenth in MVP voting. He beat the White Sox seven times without a loss that year, beating ace Ed Walsh three times. The Naps gave him a $500 bonus and he ended up earning $2600 for the year.

Gregg obviously wanted a better contract for the following year, and he negotiated a base salary of $3500 with a $1500 bonus if he won 25 games. He made 34 starts that year, fighting off and on with that same sore arm condition that had crept up the previous year, but the Naps had slipped from third to fifth that season. That inevitably cost him his bonus as he had a 2.59 ERA (133 ERA+) but only a 20-13 record. He did throw 26 complete games, but only one shutout. His WHIP inched up to 1.224, but he was still good enough for a 7.1 WAR.

In 1913, Gregg had another superb season. He started another 34 games, completing 23 of them with three shutouts and three saves to boot. His ERA lowered to 2.24 (135 ERA+), but his WHIP jumped up to 1.337. He still managed a 5.5 WAR. He also finished with an identical 20-13 record from the season before, becoming the only starting pitching (1900 on) to win 20 games in his first three seasons. But again, arm troubles hampered him off and on all season. He had a 32 inning scoreless streak around June that year and he struck out Ty Cobb three times in one game. His kid brother, Dave (who he recommended in 1911) even pitched in one game for the Naps that season.

Back in those days, teams sometimes played postseason series that had nothing to do with the World Series. That year, the Naps played the Pirates in a best of seven. In the second game, it seemed like his arm was back to normal when he struck out nine in a 2-1 eleven inning win. But it was the seventh game of that series that people talked about for many years to come. He dueled Claude Hendrix for thirteen innings that day. He scattered five singles and struck out nineteen Pirates, including Honus Wagner twice. He even doubled and scored the game's only run in the final frame. Lajoie called it the best game he ever saw pitched, and that included the Addie Joss' perfect game that he was also on the field.

In 1914, the rival Federal League sprung up, causing havoc with many AL (and NL) franchises. The Naps had already lost Cy Falkenberg, so Cleveland owner Charles Somers signed Gregg to a unheard of three year deal for $8000. Gregg got off to a 9-3 start, but his ERA was 3.44 (93 ERA+) and his WHIP increased yet again to 1.407. His arm's soreness had returned and instead of risking getting stuck with the rest of the contract, Somers dealt Gregg to the Red Sox for Fritz Coumbe, Ben Egan and Rankin Johnson on July 28. Johnson never reported to the Naps, Egan was the backup catcher for one and a half unproductive seasons, but Coumbe pitched six seasons as a decent swing starter/longman.

Gregg finished out his contract with the Red Sox, making a whopping 51 appearances in three years. That was partially due to his ineffectiveness (81 ERA+ in 220 IP), but he was also very vocal about not getting much playing time. He was disruptive enough that his teammates only voted him three quarters of a share when the Red Sox won the World Series in 1915. The Red Sox repeated in 1916, but Gregg did not appear in either postseason. He even made 4 starts for the Buffalo Bisons in the International League in 1916.

The Red Sox, unhappy with how that trade worked out, optioned Gregg to the Providence Grays in the International League in 1917. Gregg went to have another stellar season in the minors, 21-9 in 31 games, a 1.007 WHIP and leading the league in both ERA (1.73), and strikeouts. The Red Sox added him back to their roster that offseason, only to trade him with Pinch Thomas, Merlin Kopp and $60,000 to the Philadelphia Athletics for Amos Strunk, Bullet Joe Bush and Wally Schang as Connie Mack needed the cash and dealt his better players off.

Gregg pitched ok, but the Athletics team was not very good and he finished 9-14, 3.01 ERA (93 ERA+) , 1.239 WHIP and his K/9 dropped down to 2.8. The end of 1918 saw the season interrupted by the Great War (World War I) and as Gregg was too old to serve, he went home to his Alberta, Canada ranch. He stayed there for three years.

In 1921, crop prices took a huge dip, so Gregg was forced to take up baseball again. He joined the Seattle Indians of the Pacific Coast League for the next three seasons. He was 37 when he first joined them in 1922. He was 19-20 with a 3.36 ERA that year. He led the league in ERA in 1923 at 2.75 and finished 17-15. And in 1924 as a young 39 year old, he went 25-11 with a 2.90 ERA in 326 IP. That final season was enough to create a second bidding war for his services which the Senators owner Clark Griffith won, and paid $10,000 and traded three players to Seattle.

He reverted to his youth, holding out, but finally reported. He pitched mostly out of the bullpen, only making five starts. He had the highest WHIP of his career 1.682 and a 4.12 ERA (103 ERA+) in 74.1 IP. He was eventually optioned to the New Orleans Pelicans late in the season where he made nine good appearances. Unfortunately, with Gregg being optioned, he missed out on the postseason yet again when the Washington lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-3.

The Senators traded him to the Birgmingham Barons for the 1926 season, but he opted to retire instead. He did make one appearance early in 1927 for the Sacramento Senators in the PCL, but only lasted one third of inning before retiring from professional baseball again. That didn't mean his baseball career was over. He pitched in the semi-pro Timber League back in Washington until 1931 when he was 46 years young.

He was renowned as an avid hunter and fisherman, traveling throughout the Pacific Northwest in his later years. He ended remarrying and opening The Home Plate, an establishment that had a lunch counter and sold sporting goods and cigars in Hoquiam, Washington for 37 years.

Gregg passed away in 1964 at the age of 79 from prostate cancer in Aberdeen, Washington. He was elected to a number Hall of Fames: Pacific Coast League, Inland Empire, Portland Beavers, Washington State (not the college) and in 1969, was voted by the Cleveland fans the greatest left-hander in history.

Sources

Wikipedia, SABR Biography Project-Eric Sallee (via proxy of Deadball Stars of the American League by David Jones in 2006, Potomac Books)

Indians Career Stats

Year Age Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP BK WP BF ERA+ WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB Awards
1911 26 CLE 23 7 .767 1.80 34 26 8 22 5 0 244.2 172 67 49 2 86 125 10 0 8 937 189 1.054 6.3 0.1 3.2 4.6 1.45 MVP-10
1912 27 CLE 20 13 .606 2.59 37 34 3 26 1 2 271.1 242 99 78 4 90 184 10 0 9 1083 133 1.224 8.0 0.1 3.0 6.1 2.04
1913 28 CLE 20 13 .606 2.24 44 34 10 23 3 3 285.2 258 103 71 2 124 166 13 2 9 1170 135 1.337 8.1 0.1 3.9 5.2 1.34
1914 29 CLE 9 3 .750 3.07 17 12 3 6 1 0 96.2 88 46 33 0 48 56 3 0 2 401 93 1.407 8.2 0.0 4.5 5.2 1.17
CLE (4 yrs) 72 36 .667 2.31 132 106 24 77 10 5 898.1 760 315 231 8 348 531 36 2 28 3591 140 1.233 7.6 0.1 3.5 5.3 1.53
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/22/2013.

Selected Awards/Leaders

  • AL Pitching Title: 1911
  • AL MVP: 1911-10th
  • AL WAR: 5th, 1911-8.8; 9th, 1912-6.8
  • AL WAR Pitchers: 1st, 1911-9.1; 4th, 1912-7.1; 8th, 1913-5.5
  • AL ERA: 1st, 1911-1.80; 7th, 1912-2.59; 9th, 1913-2.24
  • AL Wins: 4th, 1911-23; 5th, 1913-20; 7th, 1912-20
  • AL W/L Percentage: 2nd, 1911-.767; 8th, 1914-.632
  • AL WHIP: 1st, 1911-1.054
  • AL Hits/9 IP: 1st, 1911-6.327; 10th, 1912-8.027
  • AL Strikeouts/9 IP: 3rd, 1912-6.103; 6th, 1913-5.230
  • AL Games Played: 5th, 1913-44
  • AL Saves: 6th, 1912-2; 7th, 1913-3
  • AL Innings: 4th, 1913-285.2; 8th, 1912-271.1; 10th, 1911-244.2
  • AL Strikeouts: 2nd, 1913-166; 4th, 1912-184
  • AL Games Started: 6th, 1912-34; 7th, 1913-34
  • AL Complete Games: 4th, 1913-23; 7th, 1912-26; 8th, 1911-22
  • AL Shutouts: 3rd, 1911-5; 9th, 1913-3
  • AL Home Runs: 8th, 1912-4
  • AL Bases on Balls: 1st, 1913-124; 4th, 1911-86; 8th, 1912-90
  • AL Hits: 4th, 1913-258
  • AL Strikeouts/Bases on Balls: 7th, 1912-2.044
  • AL Home Runs/9: 8th, 1911-0.074; 9th, 1912-0.063
  • AL Wild Pitches: 4th, 1913-9; 7th, 1911-8; 7th, 1912-9
  • AL Hit By Pitch: 2nd, 1913-13; 9th, 1912-10
  • AL Adjusted Era+: 1st, 1911-189; 6th, 1912-133; 8th, 1913-135
  • AL Errors as P: 5th, 1913-8

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • 18th WAR Pitchers (22.5)
  • 3rd ERA (2.31)
  • 27th Wins (72)
  • 2nd W/L Percentage (.667)
  • 18th WHIP (1.233)
  • 30th Strikeouts/9 IP (5.320)
  • 44th Innings Pitched (898.1)
  • 36th Strikeouts (531)
  • 46th Games Started (106)
  • 20th Complete Games (77)
  • t-24th Shutouts (10)
  • t-36th Bases on Balls (348)
  • 50th Hits (760)
  • 41st Strikeouts/Bases on Balls (1.526)
  • 7th HR/9 IP (0.080)
  • t-30th Wild Pitches (28)
  • t-18th Hit By Pitch (36)
  • 2nd ERA+ (140)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • 6th Pitching WAR (9.1, 1911)
  • t-10th ERA (1.80, 1911)
  • t-36th ERA (2.24, 1913)
  • t-14th Wins (23, 1911)
  • t-39th Wins (20, 1912, 1913)
  • t-15th W/L Percentage (.767, 1911)
  • t-17th W/L Percentage (.750, 1914)
  • 19th WHIP (1.054, 1911)
  • 9th Hits/9 IP (6.327, 1911)
  • t-36th Innings Pitched (285.2, 1913)
  • t-31st Strikeouts (184, 1912)
  • t-49th Strikeouts (166, 1913)
  • t-30th Complete Games (26, 1912)
  • t-41st Complete Games (23, 1913)
  • t-49th Complete Games (2, 1911)
  • t-22n Shutouts (5, 1911)
  • t-20th Bases on Balls (124, 1913)
  • t-18th HR/9 IP (0.063, 1913)
  • 31st HR/9 IP (0.074, 1911)
  • t-50th Wild Pitches (9, 1912, 1913)
  • t-8th Hit By Pitch (13, 1913)
  • t-37th Hit By Pitch (10, 1911, 1912)
  • 3rd ERA+ (189, 1911)

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