Joe Cantillon, 1907-1909
Record as Senators manager: 158-297, .347 Pct.
1907: 49-102, .325 Pct., 8th place 43.5 GB
1908: 67-85, .441 Pct., 7th place, 22.5 GB
1909: 42-110, .276 Pct., 8th place, 56 GB
A former saloon operator, AL umpire and minor league manager with Milwaukee of the American Association, “Pongo” Joe Cantillon was the 6th Senator manager in their 7 year existence. Known for a hair trigger temper and a penchant for fisticuffs from his days as an umpire, Cantillon’s 3 seasons as the Nats’s pilot featured two 100 plus loss seasons sandwiched around a 67-85 record. While the on field results remained dismal, Cantillon did have a hand in laying the groundwork for the Senators rise to respectability long after he was dismissed.
Breaking training camp from Galveston, TX in 1907, the Senators made a stop in Wichita, KS. Playing Wichita of the Western Association in an exhibition game, Cantillon, said to be a good judge of talent, spotted a speedy outfielder on the Wichita team by the name of Clyde Milan. Milan would not be signed on the spot due to the Senators already having their team set, but Cantillon would keep tabs on the youngster.
Once the regular season began, it was the same old story for the Sens. By the Fourth of July, the Nats found themselves in their customary 8th place spot, 20.5 games out. But fortune would smile on the downtrodden franchise that month when C Cliff Blankenship broke his finger. With Blankenship useless sitting on the bench, Cantillon decided to send Blankenship on a scouting mission to Kansas and Idaho. Cantillon instructed the catcher to sign Milan in Kansas. Then, Blankenship was to proceed to Weiser, ID to scout a pitcher. Cantillon had been receiving letters from a traveling salesman about a pitcher who was tearing up the Snake River Valley League. Blankenship balked about heading to Idaho on a “wild goose chase” to see “some palooka” striking everybody out in a semi-pro league. But, once Blankenship saw the pitcher pitch 12 innings in Weiser, his mind quickly changed and Walter Johnson became a Washington Senator.
Even with Milan and Johnson in tow, the Senators lost 102 games in 1907, bringing up the rear in the AL. Milan saw action in 20 games, hitting .279 with 8 steals. His roommate, Johnson, did not immediately make a splash, but showed encouraging signs with a deceptive 5-9 record and a 1.88 ERA in 14 games.
Overhauling the team for the 1908 season, Cantillon returned only two starters from the 1907 squad. Among the newcomers were Gabby Street, who would be Johnson’s personal catcher, and SS George McBride, soon to become the premier defensive shortstop in the American League. With Johnson lowering his ERA to 1.64 and improving to 14-14, and “Long” Tom Hughes winning 18, the Senators improved by 17.5 games to 67-85, a rung above the basement. The highlight of 1908 was the Big Train tossing 3 shutouts in 4 days in September and a 15 percent dividend for stockholders of the Senators.
Cantillon should have known that 1909 would be bad when Johnson got ill during camp and limped to a 1-6 start. Johnson would lose 25 games, 10 by shutout thanks to an anemic Nats offense that scored a franchise low 380 runs during the year. Overall, the club would drop a whopping 110 games against 42 victories to finish 20 games out of 7th place and 56 games behind 1st place Detroit. 1909 would be “Pongo” Joe’s swan song as a major league manager.
The stork takes an off day in the off season, as there are no Senators birthdays to report on October 27th.