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.

braves

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.

July 18, 1921 Say it ain’t so, Joe

The reputation of professional baseball had suffered a major blow.  Franchise owners appointed a man with the best “baseball name” in history, to help straighten out the mess.  He was Major League Baseball’s first Commissioner, federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

From the World Cup to the Superbowl, the world of professional sports has little to compare with the race for the Pinnacle Trophy. The contest for Championship, in which entire economies slow to a crawl and even casual sports fans are caught up in the spectacle.

For professional baseball, the “Fall Classic” began in 1903, a best-of-nine “World Series” played out between the Boston Braves and the Pittsburg Pirates. (Boston won, in eight).

Excepting the boycott year of 1904 when there was no series at all, most World Series have been ‘best-of-seven”. That changed in 1919, when league owners agreed to play a nine-game series, to generate more revenue and increase the popularity of the sport.

Today, top players are paid the GDP of developing nations, but that wasn’t always the case. One-hundred years ago, much of that revenue failed to find its way to the players.  Even the best, held second jobs.

Around that time, Chicago White Sox owner Chuck Comiskey built the most powerful organizations in professional baseball, despite a stingy reputation.

BlackSox-Lg_400x400The scandal of the 1919 “Black Sox” series began when Arnold “Chick” Gandil, the first baseman with ties to Chicago gangsters, convinced his buddy and professional gambler Joseph “Sport” Sullivan, that he could throw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. New York gangster Arnold Rothstein supplied the money through his right-hand man, former featherweight boxing champion Abe Attell.

Pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude “Lefty” Williams were principally involved with throwing the series, along with outfielder Oscar “Hap” Felsch and shortstop Charles “Swede” Risberg.  Third baseman George “Buck” Weaver attended a meeting where the fix was discussed, but decided not to participate. Weaver handed in some of his best statistics of the year during the 1919 post-season.

Star outfielder “Shoeless” Joe Jackson may have been a participant, though his involvement has been disputed. It seems that other players may have used his name in order to give themselves credibility. Utility infielder Fred McMullin was not involved in the planning, but he threatened to report the others unless they cut him in on the payoff.

The more “straight arrow” players on the club knew nothing about the fix. Second baseman Eddie Collins, catcher Ray Schalk, and pitcher Red Faber had nothing to do with it, though the conspiracy received an unexpected boost, when Faber came down with the flu.

1919WorldSeries
Official Program

Rumors were flying as the series started on October 2. So much money was bet on Cincinnati, that the odds were flat.  Gamblers complained that nothing was left on the table.  Cicotte, who had shrewdly collected his $10,000 the night before, struck leadoff hitter Morrie Rath with his second pitch, a prearranged signal that “the fix was in”.

The plot began to unravel, that first night.   Attell withheld the next installment of $20,000, to bet on the following game.

Game 2 starting pitcher Lefty Williams was still willing to go through with the fix, even though he hadn’t been paid.   He’d go on to lose his three games in the best-of nine series, but by game 8, he wanted out.

The wheels came off in game three.  Former Tigers pitcher and Rothstein intermediary Bill “Sleepy” Burns bet everything he had on Cincinnati, knowing the outcome in advance.  Except, Rookie pitcher Dickie Kerr wasn’t in on the fix.  He pitched a masterful game in game three, shutting Cincinnati out 3-0, and leaving Burns flat broke.

Cicotte became angry in game 7, thinking that gamblers were trying to renege on their deal.  The knuckle baller bore down to a White Sox win and the series stood, 4-3.

Williams was back on the mound in game 8.  By this time he wanted out of the deal, but gangsters threatened to hurt him and his family if he didn’t lose the game. Williams threw nothing but mediocre fastballs, allowing four hits and three runs in the first.  The White Sox went on to lose that Game 10-5, ending the series in a 3 – 5 Cincinnati win.

Rumors of the fix began immediately, and dogged the team throughout the 1920 season.  Chicago Herald and Examiner baseball writer Hugh Fullerton, wrote that there should never be another World Series.   A grand jury was convened that September.  Two players, Eddie Cicotte and Shoeless Joe Jackson, testified on September 28, both confessing to participating in the scheme. Despite a virtual tie for first place at that time, Comiskey pulled the seven players then in the majors.  Gandil was back in the minors, at the time.

shoeless-joe-jackson-ftr-snjpg_1m7pjeo8s1d9a10801rklma0fo
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson

The reputation of professional baseball had suffered a major blow.  Franchise owners appointed a man with the best “baseball name” in history, to help straighten out the mess.  He was Major League Baseball’s first Commissioner, federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

The Black Sox trial began this day in 1921, in the Criminal Court in Cook County.  Key evidence went missing before the trial, including both Cicotte’s and Jackson’s signed confessions. Both recanted and, in the end, all players were acquitted. The missing confessions reappeared several years later,Black Sox Headline in the possession of Comiskey’s lawyer. It’s funny how that works.

According to legend, a young boy approached Shoeless Joe Jackson one day as he came out of the courthouse. “Say it ain’t so, Joe”. There was no response.

The Commissioner was unforgiving, irrespective of the verdict. The day after the acquittal, Landis issued a statement: “Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ball game, no player who undertakes or promises to throw a ball game, no player who sits in confidence with a bunch of crooked ballplayers and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball”.

Jackson, Cicotte, Gandil, Felsch, Weaver, Williams, Risberg, and McMullin are long dead now, but every one remains Banned from Baseball.

Black Sox Eight_men_banned

Ironically, the 1919 scandal lead the way to the “Curse of the Black Sox”, a World Series championship drought lasting 88 years and ending only in 2005, with a White Sox sweep of the Houston Astros.  Exactly one year after the Boston Red Sox ended their own 86-year drought, the “Curse of the Bambino”.

The Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper published a poem back on opening day for the 1919 series. They would probably have taken it back, if only they could.

“Still, it really doesn’t matter, After all, who wins the flag.
Good clean sport is what we’re after, And we aim to make our brag.
To each near or distant nation, Whereon shines the sporting sun.
That of all our games gymnastic, Base ball is the cleanest one!”

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