Transaction of the Day…January 9, 1894 – Boston Beaneaters announce catcher Charlie Bennett‘s career is over *
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An established catcher before coming to Boston, Bennett was one of the best in the National League before 1900. In fact, in the NL’s 17-years before the turn of the century, Bennett’s 38.8 WAR ranks fourth among catchers according to Fangraphs. It might have been even higher without the events of January 9, 1894.
Unlike the creme of the crop of his time (Hall of Famers Buck Ewing and Deacon White), Bennett spent close to 90% of his time behind the plate and subsequently, his greatest value comes from catching, not what he did with a bat in his hand. A patient hitter, Bennett also stood out in an era of quick swings focusing on bat control over a more diligent approach. His walk rate of 11.1% was more than double White’s rate. Of the Top 20 catchers of the time, it ranks second. However, his 13.3% K rate was tops. Still, Bennett had a power bat to go with being maybe one of the best defensive catchers of an era.
Like I said, Bennett didn’t begin his career with the franchise. In fact, his first taste of the NL came with the Milwaukee Grays in 1878. He struggled, but got his feet wet. Two years later, he would spend a year with the Worcester Ruby Legs before joining the Detroit Wolverines for 1891. This began his longest, most successful portion of his career. For eight years, Bennett was a fixture of a Wolverine franchise that lasted just as many years. Bennett’s 31 bWAR was tops in franchise history and he was part of the Wolverines that won the 15-game 1887 World Series.
After 1888, the Wolverines folded and sold their players to various organizations, including Boston who would add 1B Dan Brouthers, 2B Hardy Richardson, and UT Charlie Ganzel along with Bennett for the 1889 season. Deacon White, who had moved to third base, was also sold to Boston (where he played in 1877), but ultimately went to Pittsburgh instead. No matter, the exchange of talent would be the start of the revival of the Beaneaters of the 1890’s. Their record improved to 83-45 in the first year with the new players and would end a seven-year title-less streak two years later. Both Brouthers and Richardson had jumped to the Player’s League after one year with the Beaneaters, but Ganzel would remain with Boston until 1897.
Bennett’s offensive stats were noticeably worse after coming to Boston. With Detroit, his adjusted OPS+ was 143 and just 82 after the move. He was also in his late 30’s. Still, Bennett remained a plus defender and handled the Boston staff, including the young Kid Nichols, who would later write that Bennett was his most preferred catcher during his career. Outside of 1892, Bennett was the primary catcher for the Beaneaters in 4 of the 5 years he played for them. He was set to continue to do so until this date in 1894. From the Detroit Athletic Co.: “Bennett had slipped while boarding a train in Kansas. People watched in horror as the heavy wheels of the moving train sliced off his left foot and crushed his right leg, which later had to be amputated below the knee.”
His career over, Bennett returned to his first real home in baseball – Detroit. He would remain a fan favorite in the city until his death in 1927. An tradition began 1896 when he, hobbled and with a prosthetic leg, would throw out the first pitch for each Detroit Tiger home opener. The Tigers would also name their new stadium Bennett Park. Whether in Detroit or Boston, Bennett’s influence in baseball was undeniable.
* – For the record, I don’t know that they did. Just guessing since Bennett’s injuries happened on this date.