July 17, 1914 The Miracle Braves

The Braves didn’t even have a home field that year, in the unlikely event they made the playoffs.

OIP (2)Boston was a two-team town in 1914, when the American League Red Sox hired 6’2″, 200-pound left handed rookie George Herman “Babe” Ruth from the Baltimore Orioles.

The American League hadn’t yet adopted the designated hitter rule, that wouldn’t happen until 1973. The Red Sox started Ruth as pitcher, but it was his bat that made him one of the best. Unlike most power hitters, Babe Ruth maintained his high batting average, ending his career with a .342 lifetime average.

Four years later, Red Sox owner and theatrical producer Harry Frazee sold the “bambino” to the arch-rival New York Yankees, to finance production of a Broadway musical.

Thus began an 86-year season of misery for We who love the Red Sox™, an interminable World Series drought we call the “Curse of the Bambino”.  Little babies grew up and had babies of their own.  They had grandbabies and great grandbabies and even a few great-greats and still, the drought wore on.   To this day, Boston-area mothers invoke the Curse of the Bambino to scare wayward children into acting right.

But that must be a story for another day.1914nl

In 1914 the National League Boston Braves were in dead last place on July 4.  Bottom of the barrel with a record of 26 wins and 40 losses, 11½ games behind the first place Giants.

For eleven years in a row and this one was shaping up to be no exception, the view in 1914 was shaping up to be one from the cellar.

The Braves didn’t even have a home field in the unlikely event they made the playoffs that year.  The club had abandoned its 43-year home at South End Grounds, that August. In post-season, the Boston Braves were reduced to the humiliating reality of renting Fenway Park from their cross-town rival, Boston Red Sox.

One of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports history started on this day with a three game road trip to Redland Field, in Cincinnati.  The Braves won three consecutive games with 1-0, 6-2 and 3-2 victories over the Reds.

The Braves played 37 games through the end of regular season, winning all but two.

The World Series match-up against the Philadelphia Athletics was a David vs. Goliath story, the 1914 A’s recipients of four American League pennants over the last 5 years and finishing regular season 8½ games ahead of the second place, Boston Red Sox.

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Game one in Philadelphia was a Boston Romp, ending with a 7-1 victory. Game two was a cliff hanger, the score tied at zero going into the 9th inning. Infielder Charlie Deal found himself on second when A’s center fielder Amos Strunk lost the ball in the sun.  Deal scored the game’s only run on Les Mann’s two-out single to center field.

Game 3 in Boston was the real thriller. The score was tied at two at the end of regulation play, with the Athletics scoring two runs in the top of the 10th. Boston came back with two runs in the bottom of the inning, and won the game in the 12th when A’s second baseman Donnie Bush threw a wild ball past third, with outfielder and pinch runner Les Mann scoring the winning run from second.

It was two outs in the 5th inning when Braves shortstop Johnny Evers hit a two-run single to center field, putting Boston ahead 3-1 in game 4. The A’s never responded.

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Fenway Park, game 3 of the 1914 World Series, October 12, 1914.

The “Miracle Braves” had emerged from dead-last to defeat the defending World Champion Philadelphia Athletics in the first four-game sweep in World Series history.

In 2011, a descendant of Johnny Evers consigned his ancestor’s 1914 World Series ring to auction, raising an intriguing question.

OIP (1)Today we take team-issued Championship rings for granted, but the practice isn’t believed to have begun until years later. Prior to that and dating well back in the previous century, World Series winners were rewarded with team-issued pins.

This was the second such ring known to exist, the first issued to shortstop Walter James Vincent “Rabbit” Maranville, also of the 1914 Boston Braves.  It may be that Evers and Maranville had the rings made for themselves, or maybe players were offered a choice of rewards. Perhaps rings were offered to all players but only at their own expense, causing most to pass on the opportunity.

Perhaps these two rings are merely the only two known to have survived.  Be that as it may, at least a few players had begun to associate rings with championships, long before their first official issue, in 1922.

A notorious cheapskate, A’s owner Connie Mack gave his star pitcher Chief Bender the week off before the series, with orders to personally scout the Braves roster.  Instead, the man took a vacation. When later asked to explain himself, Bender replied: “Why should I check out a bunch of bush league hitters?” The following season, Bender and fellow pitcher “Gettysburg” Eddie Plank jumped ship to join the rival Federal League. Mack unloaded most of his other “high-priced” talent. Within two seasons, the Philadelphia Athletics had amassed the worst losing record in modern baseball history.

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In 1949, American poet and self-styled “incurable fan” Ogden Nash penned a poem for the January 1949 issue of SPORT Magazine.  It’s called

“Line-Up for Yesterday: An ABC of Baseball Immortals”. 

Hat tip, Wikipedia

Letter Player Verse
A Grover Cleveland Alexander A is for AlexThe great Alexander;

More Goose eggs he pitched

Than a popular gander.

B Roger Bresnahan B is for BresnahanBack of the plate;

The Cubs were his love,

and McGraw his hate.

C Ty Cobb C is for CobbWho grew spikes and not corn,

And made all the basemen

Wish they weren’t born.

D Jay “Dizzy” Dean D is for Dean,The grammatical Diz,

When they asked, Who’s the tops?

Said correctly, I is.

E Johnny Evers E is for Evers,His jaw in advance;

Never afraid

To Tinker with Chance.

F Frankie “Fordham” Frisch F is for FordhamAnd Frankie and Frisch;

I wish he were back

With the Giants, I wish.

G Lou Gehrig G is for Gehrig,The Pride of the Stadium;

His record pure gold,

His courage, pure radium.

H Rogers Hornsby H is for Hornsby;When pitching to Rog,

The pitcher would pitch,

Then the pitcher would dodge.

I Nash, the author I is for Me,Not a hard-hitting man,

But an outstanding all-time

Incurable fan.

J Walter Johnson J is for JohnsonThe Big Train in his prime

Was so fast he could throw

Three strikes at a time.

K Willie Keeler K is for Keeler,As fresh as green paint,

The fastest and mostest

To hit where they ain’t.

L Nap Lajoie L is for LajoieWhom Clevelanders love,

Napoleon himself,

With glue in his glove.

M Christy Mathewson M is for Matty,Who carried a charm

In the form of an extra

brain in his arm.

N Louis “Bobo” Newsom N is for Newsom,Bobo’s favorite kin.

You ask how he’s here,

He talked himself in.

O Mel Ott O is for OttOf the restless right foot.

When he leaned on the pellet,

The pellet stayed put.

P Eddie Plank P is for Plank,The arm of the A’s;

When he tangled with Matty

Games lasted for days.

Q Connie Mack Q is for Don QuixoteCornelius Mack;

Neither Yankees nor years

Can halt his attack.

R Babe Ruth R is for Ruth.To tell you the truth,

There’s just no more to be said,

Just R is for Ruth.

S Tris Speaker S is for Speaker,Swift center-field tender,

When the ball saw him coming,

It yelled, “I surrender.”

T Bill Terry T is for TerryThe Giant from Memphis

Whose .400 average

You can’t overemphis.

U Carl Hubbell U would be ‘Ubbellif Carl were a cockney;

We say Hubbell and Baseball

Like Football and Rockne.

V Charles “Dazzy” Vance V is for VanceThe Dodger’s very own Dazzy;

None of his rivals

Could throw as fast as he.

W Honus Wagner W is for Wagner,The bowlegged beauty;

Short was closed to all traffic

With Honus on duty.

X Jimmie Foxx X is the firstof two x’s in Foxx

Who was right behind Ruth

with his powerful soxx.

Y Cy Young Y is for YoungThe magnificent Cy;

People batted against him,

But I never knew why.

Z Zenith Z is for ZenithThe summit of fame.

These men are up there.

These men are the game.

March 12, 1901 A Two-Team Town

1901 saw no series at all, as the startup American League fought the National League for control of the business. The following year, the top two major league baseball teams switched sports, opting instead to compete in a football championship.

The first all-professional team in baseball history was established in 1869:  ten salaried  teammates, playing to a perfect 65-0 record as the Cincinnati Red Stockings.  To date, it’s the only perfect season in major league baseball history.  The club voted to dissolve after the 1870 season, when player-manager Harry Wright went to Boston, at the invitation of Ashburnham businessman and Boston Red Stockings founder, Ivers Whitney Adams.

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Boston Beaneater Pitcher Charles Gardner “Old Hoss” Radbourn, standing, far left, giving the cameraman “the finger” in 1886, the earliest known photograph of the gesture.

Eight previously amateur clubs went pro for the 1871 season, including the Cubs organization, playing at that time as the “Chicago White stockings”, and not to be confused with the later American League franchise, Chicago White Sox.  Today, these are the only two left of the original nine, though the Red Stockings and successor organizations are the oldest continuously playing professional team in American sports, since the Cubbies missed two years, following the great Chicago fire of 1871.

Club names were more fluid in the 19th century than today, and teams were likely to be known by nicknames.  When the new Cincinnati Red Stockings formed in 1876, the Boston club was sometimes called the “Red Caps” and later, the “Beaneaters”.

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“Squad: A team photo of the now defunct Boston Reds. In its one and only year in the Players’ National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs the Reds won the 1890 title after accruing 81 wins fending off competition from the New York Giants. The Reds didn’t join the newly formed National League at the end of the season after the Boston Braves, soon to become the famous Atlanta Braves, were ushered into the new league and officials didn’t want the two Boston teams to face each other” H/T DailyMail.com

In those days, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players and its National League successor represented the pinnacle of professional baseball.  There was no post-season, championships were awarded based on the best record at the end of regular season.

Precursors to the modern World Series began with the formation of a second league in 1882, the American Association, but the series themselves were haphazard.  Terms of post-season play were negotiated between club owners, with as few as three games in 1884 when the Providence Grays defeated the New York Metropolitans 3-0, and as many as fifteen, when the Detroit Wolverines defeated the St. Louis Browns, 10 to 5.

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Boston Americans, 1902

With the collapse of the American Association in 1891, major league baseball entered an eight-year single-league “monopoly”, where half-season winners squared off in a championship series called the Temple Cup.

1901 saw no series at all, as the startup American League fought the National League for business supremacy.  The two top teams in baseball changed sports in 1902, opting instead to compete in a football championship.

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Boston Americans logo, 1901-1907

The Red Caps/Beaneaters roster was decimated in 1901, with the formation of Boston’s American League franchise, the “Americans”.  Many stars jumped ship to the new AL club, which was offering contracts that it’s NL competitor couldn’t hope to match.

On this day in 1901, ground was broken for Boston’s 1st American League ballpark, the Huntington Avenue Grounds.  The stadium was the site of the first modern World Series in 1903, when the Boston Americans defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in a best-of-nine series, five to three. The stadium saw the first perfect game of the modern era, thrown by Cy Young on May 5, 1904.

The playing field was built on what used to be a circus lot and was large by current standards: 530′ to center field, later expanded to 635′ in 1908. It had many quirks not seen in modern baseball stadia, including patches of sand in the outfield where grass wouldn’t grow, and a tool shed in play in deep center field.

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1903 World Series photograph, believed to be taken from the roof of a nearby warehouse

During the 1907 season, manager Fred Tenney removed the last bit of red from Red Caps/Beaneaters uniforms, believing that red dyes could cause injuries to become infected.  The all-white uniforms gave rise to the unfortunate sobriquet – “Doves”, while Americans’ owner John Taylor was quick to cash in with a name change of his own, a reference to the uniform hose worn by his franchise, since the beginning.  The Boston Red Sox, were born.

Fred-snodgrassIn 1912, the Doves adopted an official name of their own. National League franchise owner James Gaffney was a member of Tammany Hall, the political machine that ruled New York, between 1789 and 1967.  Tammany Hall’s symbol was an Indian chief, its headquarters called a “wigwam”. So it was that, the oldest franchise in major league baseball, came to be called “the Braves”.

The Boston Red Sox moved to their new stadium home that same year, ending the season in a dramatic victory over the New York Giants, four games to three.  Frederick “Snow” Snodgrass, one of the best outfielders of his day, dropped a routine fly ball in the 10th inning of the deciding game, allowing the winning run to stay on base, much to the dismay of generations of Giants fans.

Fred Snodgrass went on to become a successful banker, elected city councilman, and a popular mayor and rancher in Oxnard CA, but “Snodgrass’s Muff” would follow him, for the rest of his days. When the man died in April, 1974, the New York Times obituary was headlined “Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly.” Move over, Billy Buckner.

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A Boston team won five out of six consecutive World Series championships between 1912-’18, with the NL franchise advancing from dead last to World Champions in 1914, and the Red Sox winning in 1912, ,15, ’16 and ’18.

It was the Golden Era of Boston baseball, and it all came to a halt in 1919.  On December 26, theater enthusiast and Red Sox franchise owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the arch-rival New York Yankees, to open a play called My Lady Friends, opening on Broadway that same month. Years later, My Lady Friends would become a musical, called No, No, Nanette.  The musical wouldn’t open until five years after Frazee’s infamous trade, but indeed, the forerunner was financed by the Ruth sale, to the Yankees.

1914 Miracle Braves

There ensued one of the longest championship droughts in baseball history, an 86-year period called the “Curse of the Bambino” before the Red Sox’ sixth Championship, in 2004.

With Braves Field under construction in 1914, the Miracle Braves played in the Red Sox’ home field at Fenway Park.  The Braves returned the favor the next two years, as Braves Field was the larger of the two.

il_340x270.893955742_3w451915 ushered in a 20-year losing streak for the Braves.  Ironically, it was Babe Ruth who was expected to pull it all together, when Braves President Emil Fuchs brought the Bambino back to Boston in 1935.

Things were looking up that opening day, with a 4-2 win over the Giants, and Ruth had something to do with all four runs.  Later that month, Ruth hit three home runs in a single game but, no one could know those were the last of his career.   Years of high living had done their work.  The Bambino’s best years were behind him.  The man couldn’t run, and his fielding was so bad that three Braves pitchers threatened to strike, if he remained in the lineup.  Babe Ruth retired on June 1, a short six days after one of the finest performances, of his career.

1948 almost saw an all-Boston World Series, but for a single game playoff loss to the Indians.

Boston remained a two-team town until March 13, 1953, when the Braves left, for good. The longest-running franchise in MLB history went to Milwaukee for a time before moving to Atlanta.  Brave’s Field was sold to Boston University.

The old Huntington Grounds were demolished in 1912, later replaced with the Cabot Center, an indoor athletic venue belonging to Northeastern University. A plaque and a statue of Cy Young were erected on the campus in 1993, where the pitchers mound and home plate used to be. A plaque on the side of the Cabot building marks the former location of the left field foul pole, about ¼ mile from Matthews Arena, the oldest multi-purpose athletic building still in use in the world, and the original home to the Boston Bruins.  But that must be a story, for another day.

Feature image, top of page: Fenway Park, October 12, 1914, third game of the 1914 World Series

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