“I ain’t superstitious, but a black cat’s crossing my trail.” It’s easy to imagine bluesman Willie Dixon singing this, but it’s also a line John McGraw might have penned on the eve of the 1905 World Series. He was about to square off against Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, who had proudly adopted the epithet White Elephants, hurled at them by McGraw during the war with the National League in 1902. In Mack’s own words, from his 1950 autobiography:
In 1902 the Baltimore Club forfeited its franchise in the newly formed American League. Its spot was filled by the New York Highlanders, “the acorn from which sprung the mighty Yankee oak.” The astute John McGraw took advantage of the opportunity and jumped from the crumbling Orioles to the New York Giants, a leap to fame and fortune. When the sportswriters gathered around McGraw to fire a barrage of questions, one of the questions was, “What do you think of the Philadelphia A’s?”
“White elephants!” quickly retorted Mr. McGraw. “Mr. B. F. Shibe has a white elephant on his hands.”
When peace was declared in 1903 and the first modern World Series was played, it was Boston, the American League representative, which emerged victorious. After McGraw and Giants’ owner John T. Brush killed the World Series in 1904 by refusing to play the defending champion Boston Americans (today’s Red Sox), the National and American Leagues formalized the World Series as an annual postseason event; the agreement that had produced the 1903 Series was a one-time thing. When the Giants won the NL flag again in 1905, McGraw had no choice but to play his counterpart in the AL. When that turned out to be Mack’s White Elephants, the superstitious McGraw decided he would take the upper hand by going black against white.
For many years the Hall displayed a black Giants jersey that was thought to have been worn in the 1905 World Series by George “Hooks” Wiltse, a pitcher who had a fine year in 1905 (15–6) yet didn’t get into the World Series because Christy Mathewson tossed three shutouts and Joe McGinnity one in the Giants’ five-game victory. Hooks may have been given his nickname for his fine curve, or for his misshapen nose, or maybe just because he was left-handed and thus, in that age of superstition, twisty, serpentine, even sinister (the Latin for left is sinistra). His brother Lewis, also a lefty—who had pitched well for the A’s in 1901–02—was nicknamed “Snake.”
Hooks was a man destined for bad luck, McGraw’s wiles notwithstanding. On July 4, 1908, in the first game of a twin bill with the Phillies, Hooks took a perfect game into the ninth inning and retired the first two batters. The last man up figured to be a pinch hitter for the weak-hitting pitcher, George McQuillan (lifetime batting average in ten seasons, .117). But McQuillan too had not allowed a run, so his manager permitted him to bat. Strike one. Strike two. Then poor Wiltse tried to get cute and threw an 0–2 hook to McQuillan … and hit him, erasing his perfect game. Although the Giants won the game in the tenth and Hooks retained his no-hitter, it was cold comfort. In the history of Major League Baseball there has never been another game like it.
When the Giants next returned to the World Series, in 1911, McGraw revived the black uniforms, but the charm was off, as his team lost to the A’s in six games. Hooks Wiltse made two relief appearances and was clobbered, allowing eight hits and runs less than four innings’ work.
In the rematch of the clubs in the 1913 World Series, the Giants wore white yet lost in five. But Black Cat Wiltse, fading out as a pitcher, played a vital part in their only victory. Forced into action as a first baseman in the late innings of Game 2 because of an injury to Fred Merkle (talk about a bad-luck charm!), Hooks made back-to-back excellent throws home in the last of the ninth, each time nailing the potential winning run. The Giants won in ten innings.
In mid-1985, when I was a struggling baseball writer, someone at the NBC television network called to ask whether I might wish to develop a baseball-trivia segment for a new hour-long prime-time program, American Almanac, that would be hosted by Roger Mudd. I would be the interlocutor for the segment, the staffer said, asking questions of a range of “personalities,” ranging from Pete Rose and Pearl Bailey to David Eisenhower, Abigail Van Buren (“Dear Abby”), and Governor Mario Cuomo. Do I misremember a detail or three? Very likely. But I recall that I was filmed in warm weather, posing the questions from a grandstand seat at Doubleday Field. My stumpers were then put before the respondents in other locations, with the entirety coming together for airing as maybe a six-minute piece on October 21, 1985.
This last point, so specific, I obtained just now from http://www.nbcuniversalarchives.com, which offers no clip for viewing (I am thus spared) but does offer this uncorrected text, aiding my recall. I think they spelled my name correctly in the episode, but maybe not. If they went on to misspell Bobby Thomson’s name too, and Masanori Murakami’s, I was at least in good company.
WHOS ON FIRST
VILLAGE OF COOPERSTOWN SIGN SEEN. TED WILLIAMS STATUE; KID WITH STATUE OF BABE RUTH; PEOPLE WATCH RUTH & DOUBLEDAY FIELD ON SCREEN; & BASEBALL TRIVIA EXPERT THORNE(PH) ASKS WHO WERE BROTHERS IN HALL OF FAME. NY GOV CUOMO SEEN; PEARL BAILEY SAYS SHES A METS FAN; REDS MGR ROSE SEEN; VAN BUREN SAYS MARX BROS; RITZ BROS; OR SMITH BROS. DAVID EISENHOWER TRIVIA EXPERT SEEN. THORNE SAYS LLOYD & PAUL WANER. STILL OF WANER BROS SEEN. THORNE ASKS FOR NAME OF ST LOUIS BROWNS ONE ARMED PLAYER. CUOMO SAYS PETE GRAY. INSET CLIP OF GRAY SEEN. THORNE TELLS OF GRAYS ABILITY. THORNE ASKS FOR TOKYO STAR IN MAJORS. ROSE SAYS HE HIT THREE HOMERS OFF MASINORI YAMAKORI(PH). STILL OF YAMIKORI SEEN. FANS WATCH JACKIE ROBINSON ON SCREEN. THORNE ASKS NAME OF FIRST BLACK IN MAJOR LEAGUES. BAILEY; EISENHOWER; & ROSE CANT NAME PLAYER. STILL OF MOSES FLEETWOOD WALKER SEEN. CUOMO ASKS HOW HE COULD HAVE MISSED. COOPERSTOWN INN SIGN SEEN. THORNE SAYS HES NOT TRIVIAL BUT HAS A LOT OF GARBAGE IN HIS HEAD. INSET CLIP OF GEHRIGS JULY 39 FAREWELL AT YANKEE STADIUM SEEN. GEHRIG SAYS HES THE MOST GRATEFUL MAN ON EARTH. SILHOUETTED YANKEE STADIUM STAIRS SEEN. THORNE ASKS WHO REPLACED GEHRIG. EISENHOWER ANSWERS BABE DAHLGREN. INSET CLIP OF GIANTS THOMPSON MOBBED BY TEAMMATES AFTER HITTING SHOT HEARD ROUND THE WORLD TO WIN PENNANT OVER DODGERS AT POLO GROUNDS IN OCTOBER 51. THORNE ASKS FOR NUMBER PITCHER BRANCA WORE. EISENHOWER SAYS 13. INSET STILL BRANCA WEARING # 13 SEEN. STILL OF COBB AS ABBOTT & COSTELLO PERFORM WHOS ON FIRST IN MOVIE NAUGHTY NINETIES ON BACKGROUND SCREEN. TED WILLIAMS POSTER SEEN. BASES ON INFIELD SEEN. THORNE ASKS FOR FOURTH MAN IN CUBS FAMED TINKERS TO EVERS TO CHANCE INFIELD. EISENHOWER SAYS HARRY STEINFELDT. INSET STILL OF STEINFELDT SEEN. TRAIN CARS ON TRACK; MAN THROWS BALL TO WOMAN IN BACKYARD; SPRINKLER ON PLAYING FIELD; STILL OF BROTHERS SEEN. THORNE ASKS FOR 63 GIANTS VS METS WHEN THREE BROTHERS BATTED CONSECUTIVELY. EISENHOWER ANSWERS THE ALOU BROTHERS. BAILEY SINGS TAKEME OUT TO THE BALL GAME. THORNE SITS IN ROCKER & ASKS WHY IS HE WASTING SO MUCH GREY MATTER ON THIS TRIVIA.
Incredibly to me, I found on my hard drive–created in a CPM version of that old favorite word processing program WordStar–the 55 original trivia questions I had prepared for the segment (not all were used, clearly). I wondered how many answers would still be correct. I have had to alter a few, but the vast majority held up. Some of the answers, such as the very first one, changed because of recent research. Others changed simply because the march of time had rendered the question absurd or the answer ambiguous.
Anyhow, I thought you might have some fun with this, a trivia quiz designed for average baseball fans. Most of the questions are Tim Wakefield fastballs; only a few are tossed up with guile. Answers appear at the bottom. I expect YOU to answer them all correctly, and your kids may do pretty well too.
1. Who was the first black to play major-league baseball?
2. With what team did Hall of Fame outfielders Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Zack Wheat all conclude their major-league careers?
3. In 1930, a National League team batted .315 and scored more than six runs per game, yet finished in last place. What team was it?
4. Name the one-armed outfielder of the 1944 St. Louis Browns.
5. When was the last major-league tripleheader (there have been three)?
6. What two teams met in the 1903 World Series, the first of the twentieth century?
8. Who is the only pitcher to throw three shutouts in one World Series?
9. Tinker to Evers to Chance formed the “trio of bear cubs fleeter than birds” that entered the Hall of Fame as a unit in 1945. Who was the third baseman of that great Chicago infield of 1906?
10. Who is the only major leaguer with a lifetime batting average of 1.000 with more than two at bats?
11. Who won the first Cy Young Award, in 1956?
12. Three pitchers threw no-hitters in their first major-league start. Name one.
13. The Chicago White Sox of 1919 threw the World Series in what became known as the Black Sox Scandal. Which team won that Series?
14. The final game of the 1924 World Series was decided by a routine grounder that hit a pebble and bounded over the third baseman’s head. What were the teams, who hit the grounder, and who was the third baseman?
16. Six men have received an intentional base on balls despite the bases being full. Name them.
17. What was the first-base platoon of the champion 1969 Mets?
18. When Bobby Thomson hit the “shot heard round the world” off Ralph Branca to win the 1951 National League pennant, what uniform number was Branca wearing?
19. Thirteen men have hit two grand slam homers in one game; the first National Leaguer among them was a pitcher. Who was he?
20. Who was the last man to bat .400 in a season, and who has come closest since?
21. Yankee Bill Bevens had a no-hitter going with two outs in the ninth of Game 4 in the 1947 World Series. Then he allowed a hit that cost him his no-hitter and the game. Who was the batter? Like Bevens, he would never appear in a regular-season major-league game afterwards.
22. Who was the pinch-hitting star of the New York Giants as they swept the Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series?
23. Who holds the record for lowest Earned Run Average in a season with at least 154 innings pitched?
24. What baseball player became world famous as an evangelist?
25. Name the three most recent lefthanded catchers in the major leagues.
26. In 1958 Pittsburgh’s Harvey Haddix threw perfect ball against the Milwaukee Braves for 12 innings, then lost the no-hitter and the game in the 13th. Who was the winning pitcher?
27. Who was the first relief pitcher elected to the Hall of Fame?
28. Who is the only man to have decided a World Series with a final-game, final-inning home run?
29. In a game in 1963, three brothers manned the outfield spots for the same club and batted in succession. Who were they?
30. Who was the final batter to face Don Larsen in his perfect game of October 8, 1956?
32. What team entered the World Series with the worst won-lost record of any pennant winner?
33. Who holds the record for most homers by a second baseman?
34. What positions has Pete Rose played as a regular?
35. How many batting titles did Ty Cobb win?
36. Who was the first player to come from the Japanese major leagues to the American?
37. Who is the last man to win the batting triple crown?
38. Who is the last man to throw a perfect game in the regular season?
39. The Dodgers of the mid-1960s had an all switch-hitting infield. Name the players.
40. What Hall of Fame shortstop was known as “Old Aches and Pains”?
41. What pitcher was removed for a pinch hitter despite having only one inning to go for a no-hitter?
42. What baseball announcer said, “He slud into third”?
43. What is Yogi Berra’s first name?
44. Who are the only brothers in the Hall of Fame?
45. What year did the Brooklyn Dodgers win their only World Series?
46. What are the tools of ignorance?
47. When Pete Rose hit in 44 straight games in 1978, whose National League record did he tie?
48. What pitcher with 20 or more wins has the highest single-season winning percentage?
49. How many times did Henry Aaron hit 50 or more homers?
50. Who was the last man to hit 60 homers in a season?
52. What are the most recent expansion teams in each league?
53. What terrible-fielding Pirate first baseman was known as Dr. Strangeglove?
54. Who replaced Lou Gehrig at first base when he finally sat down after playing 2,130 consecutive games? Whom did Gehrig replace when he himself broke in?
55. What uniform number did the St. Louis Browns’ Eddie Gaedel wear when he came to bat in his only game, against Detroit in 1951?
1. William Edward White, in 1879 (not Jackie Robinson or Moses Fleetwood Walker).
2. The Philadelphia Athletics of 1927-28.
3. The Philadelphia Phillies, whose pitchers allowed nearly eight runs per game.
4. Pete Gray.
5. October 2, 1920, between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds, at Forbes Field.
6. Pittsburgh (NL) and Boston (AL).
7. Ed Walsh (40) and Jack Chesbro (41); Hoss Radbourn, 59 in 1884.
8. Christy Mathewson in 1905 against the A’s.
9. Harry Steinfeldt.
10. John Paciorek, who went 3-for-3 with two walks and 3 RBIs in his only game, for Houston in 1963.
11. Don Newcombe of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
12. Bobo Holloman (Browns, 1953), Ted Britenstein (1898), and Bumpus Jones (1892).
13. Cincinnati Reds.
14. The Washington Senators defeated the New York Giants; Earl McNeely hit the ball; the third baseman was Freddie Lindstrom.
15. William Bendix.
16. Abner Dalrymple (1881); Nap Lajoie (1901); Del Bissonette (1928); Bill Nicholson (1944); Barry Bonds (1998); Josh Hamilton (2008).
17. Donn Clendenon and Ed Kranepool.
19. Tony Cloninger of the Atlanta Braves, in 1966.
20. Ted Williams, .406 in 1941; Tony Gwynn, .394 in 1994.
21. Cookie Lavagetto.
22. Dusty Rhodes.
23. Dutch Leonard, 0.96 in 1916.
24. Billy Sunday.
25. Dale Long (1958), Mike Squires (1980), and Benny Distefano (1989).
26. Lew Burdette.
27. Hoyt Wilhelm, 1985.
28. Bill Mazeroski, of the 1960 Pirates.
29. Matty, Felipe, and Jesus Alou of the San Francisco Giants.
30. Pinch hitter Dale Mitchell, who fanned.
31. Hippo Vaughn and Fred Toney.
32. The New York Mets of 1973, 82-79.
33. Davey Johnson with the Braves in 1973, and Rogers Hornsby with the Cards in 1922; each hit 42.
34. Second base, third base, left field, right field, and first base.
35. Twelve, coming in thirteen years; the only year he missed, he batted .371.
36. MasanoriMurakami, with San Francisco in 1964-65.
37. Carl Yastrzemski, Boston Red Sox, 1967.
38. Dallas Braden, A’s, 2010.
39. First base, Wes Parker. Second base, Jim LeFebvre. Shortstop, Maury Wills. Third base, Jim Gilliam.
40. Luke Appling.
41. Clay Kirby of the Padres or Don Wilson of the Astros, both removed by the same manager—Preston Gomez.
42. Dizzy Dean.
44. Paul and Lloyd Waner and George and Harry Wright.
46. The catcher’s gear.
47. Willie Keeler’s.
48. Ron Guidry, .893 when he went 25-3 in 1978.
50. In 2001 Barry Bonds hit and Sammy Sosa hit 64.
51. Maris, Tracy Stallard; Ruth, Tom Zachary; Bonds, Dennis Springer.
52. AL: Tampa Bay Rays; NL: Arizona Diamondbacks, 1998.
53. Dick Stuart.
54. Babe Dahlgren replaced Gehrig on May 2, 1939. While it widely believed that Gehrig’s streak commenced on June 2, 1925 when he replaced slumping first baseman Wally Pipp, in fact it began one day earlier, when he pinch hit for shortstop Pee Wee Wanninger.
55. Number 1/8.