June 20, 1874|
Chester, West Virginia
|Died: January 12, 1903
San Francisco, California
|April 21, 1894, for the Washington Senators|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 27, 1902, for the Detroit Tigers|
|Earned run average||3.99|
|Career highlights and awards|
George Barclay "Win" Mercer (June 20, 1874 – January 12, 1903) was a pitcher in Major League Baseball from 1894 to 1902. Born in Chester, West Virginia, he played primarily with the National League Washington Senators (1894–1899), winning 20 games twice with the club. He also played with the New York Giants (1900), the American League Washington Senators (1901), and the Detroit Tigers (1902). Mercer led the National League in games started (41), shutouts (3), and saves (3) in 1897. He holds the interesting record of most stolen bases (nine) by a pitcher in one season. His career record of 251 complete games ranks No. 77 in Major League history.
Six seasons with the Washington Senators: 1894–1899
Mercer spent the first seven years of his major league career, 1894–1899, with the Washington Senators. The Senators were one of the worst teams in baseball during Mercer's years with them. During Mercer's tenure, the Senators were 45–87 (1894); 43–85 (1895); 58–73 (1896); 61–71 (1897); 51–101 (1898) and 54–98 (1899).
While Mercer's career record is 131–164, these figures do not reflect Mercer's talents. In Mercer's rookie season, 1894, he pitched 336-1/3 innings and had 29 complete games at age 20. His ERA of 3.85 was third best in the National League. Yet, his win-loss record for the hapless Senators was 17–23. In 1896, Mercer managed to win 25 games (5th best in the National League) despite playing for a losing team. If Mercer's decisions were removed from the Senators’ 1896 season, they would have finished 23–55 – a .294 winning percentage.
A game played on August 31, 1896 demonstrates how difficult it was for Mercer to secure wins for the Senators. On that day, Mercer shut out Chicago for 11 innings, but the Senators also failed to score a run against opposing pitcher Cy Young. The Senators finally scored a run in the 11th inning to give Mercer the win, but Mercer lacked the support to achieve the win totals he could have secured on a better hitting team.
Mercer's role in the Ladies' Day Riot of 1897
According to a biography of Mercer published by SABR, Mercer was a fan favorite, especially with women. He reportedly was "young and handsome with piercing dark eyes, and an outgoing personality." According to one account (Nash and Zullo, "Turnstile Turnoffs" in ‘The Baseball Hall of Shame’ (1985)), the ladies loved Mercer, and he "loved the ladies." Playing on Mercer's popularity with the ladies, Washington liked to pitch Mercer on Tuesdays and Fridays, which were designated "Ladies’ Days." One Ladies’ Day game in 1897 ended in shambles when women rioted after Umpire Bill Carpenter ejected Mercer. According to Nash and Zullo, "an army of angry females poured out of the stands. They surrounded Carpenter, shoved him to the ground and ripped his clothing. Finally, police brought the situation under control."
Mercer's talents as a batter
Mercer also proved himself to be a solid hitter with the Senators. He hit .291 in his rookie season with 29 runs, 29 RBIs, 9 extra base hits, and 9 stolen bases. After Mercer hit .317 in 1897, the Senators began using him as a position player starting in 1898 on days when he wasn’t pitching. As a result, Mercer played at every position except catcher in his career, including 90 games at 3rd base, 75 games in the outfield, 39 games at shortstop, 8 games at first base, and 5 at 2nd base. With increased at bats in 1898, Mercer batted .321 with a .369 on-base percentage. The rest of the Senators’ team batted .271 for the 1898 season – 50 points lower than Mercer. And in 1899, he hit .299 and achieved career highs with 73 runs, 35 RBIs, 112 hits, and 16 stolen bases.
The New York Giants: 1900
On January 10, 1900, the New York Giants purchased Mercer from Washington. Mercer had the misfortune of playing for the Giants in a year when they finished 18 games under .500 and in 8th place. Mercer finished the 1900 season with a 13–17 record and a 3.86 ERA
The American League: 1901–1902
Before the 1901 season, Mercer jumped to the newly formed American League. He played the 1901 season with the new American League Washington Senators. The team finished 11 games under .500 and in 6th place. Mercer was 9–13 as a pitcher, but batted .300 with 10 steals. On August 8, 1901, Mercer stole home against the Athletics, becoming the first American League pitcher to accomplish the feat.
Mercer played for the Detroit Tigers in 1902 and had one of his best seasons. Though he had eight major league seasons behind him, Mercer was only 27 years old at the start of the 1902 season. He started 33 games for the Tigers and had 28 complete games. His ERA of 3.04 was the best of his career. His four shutouts in 1902 were second in the American League to Addie Joss.
Mercer's suicide in January 1903
After the conclusion of the 1902 season, the Tigers appointed the 28-year-old Mercer to be their player-manager for 1903. However, on January 12, 1903, after a barnstorming tour through the west, Mercer checked into the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco and killed himself by inhaling illuminating gas at age 28. Mercer's suicide won national attention, and there were conflicting reports about the reasons for the suicide. The Sporting News reported that Mercer had been gambling and apparently saw no way to make the deficit good. According to this version, his losses included not only his own money but the funds of other players, with estimates ranging from $3,000 to $8,000. Another report rejected the idea of gambling debts and blamed the suicide on a relationship with a woman. Some reports indicated that Mercer left a suicide note warning of the evils of women and gambling. There is no known substantiation for these reports, and The New York Times reported on Mercer's death as follows: "[Mercer] registered at the Occidental Hotel last evening. He was found asphyxiated in his room to-day. Mercer registered under the name George Murray and gave his residence as Philadelphia. The watchman of the hotel in making his rounds detected the odor of gas coming from Mercer's room and broke down the door. Mercer was on the bed with his coat and waistcoat covering his head; and a tube ran from the gas jet into his mouth. Among the papers found in the room was one which read: 'Tell Mr. Van Horn of the Langham Hotel that Winnie Mercer has taken his life.' Mercer was a sufferer of pulmonary troubles, and as the disease refused to yield to treatment he became despondent. He left a statement of his financial accounts, showing that he owed no money. He was twenty-eight years old...."
- List of Major League Baseball annual saves leaders
- List of Major League Baseball career hit batsmen leaders
- List of baseball players who died during their careers
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference
- Tom Deveaux, The Washington Senators 1901–1971 (McFarland & Co. 2001)
- Bruch Nash and Allan Zullo, "Turnstile Turnoffs: The Most Undignified Ballpark Promotions", in The Baseball Hall of Shame (Pocket Books 1985).