January 8th, 2013

Tris Speaker Remembers

Tris Speaker

Tris Speaker

“I’ll always think of the 1912 season as one of the greatest in major league history,” Tris Speaker said some seventy years ago. And he is still right. We just celebrated the centennial of perhaps the greatest World Series ever, and who better to tell you about it than the man at the center of its climactic moment. Elected to Hall of Fame in 1937, the Grey Eagle compiled a batting average of .345 for 2,789 games. Not a home-run hitter (in the deadball era hardly anyone was), Speaker nonetheless led the American League in 1912 by walloping 10. And he was a power hitter by any standard: his 792 doubles are first all-time, and his 222 triples place him sixth.

Spoke, as he was nicknamed, was the first whose glove was termed, “The place where triples go to die.” Among outfielders he ranks first in lifetime outfield assists,  second in putouts. He took part in 139 double plays, a record–and six of these were unassisted ( no one else has had even three).  In 1909 and 1912 he set the American League record with 35 assists in a season. Even in his later years, when the lively ball came in, he still played a shallow center field. Joe Sewell, who patrolled shortstop for Speaker’s Cleveland Indians starting in 1920, said, “I played seven years with him right behind me in shallow center field. You know how an infielder gets down for the pitch? Well, you’d get down and the ball would be hit—a shot. You’d turn, and in all that time I never did see him turn. He’d be turned and gone with his back to the plate, the ball, the infield, and when he’d turn around again, there would be the ball.”

Here is Tris Speaker’s recollection of his greatest day in baseball, as told to Francis J. Powers in 1944.

I’ll always think of the 1912 season as one of the greatest in major league history. That’s natural for it was in 1912 that I first played with a pennant winner and world’s championship team, and there are no greater thrills for a young player. Our Boston Red Sox, managed by Jake Stahl, a former University of Illinois star, won the American League pennant while the New York Giants were the winners on the National League side.

There were a couple of great teams. The Red Sox won 105 games that season for a league record that stood until the Yankees won 110 in 1926. And the Giants came home with 103 victories and no other National League winner since touched that total until the Cardinals won 106 in 1942. Joe Wood won 34 games for us, almost one-third of our total, and 10 of them were shutouts.

Joe Wood 1912

Joe Wood 1912

Many a time I have heard “Smoke” say in our clubhouse meetings, “get me two runs today and we’ll win this one.” Woody won 16 in a row and beat Walter Johnson after the Big Train had won a similar string and no one has beaten those marks [in the American League] although they have been tied. We had Duffy Lewis and Harry Hooper in the outfield and there never were any better, Larry Gardner at third, Heinie Wagner at short and Buck O’Brien and Hugh Bedient on the pitching staff, just to mention some of our stars.

While Wood (and Johnson) made pitching history in the American League that summer Rube Marquard was writing an unequaled chapter in the National. The gangling, wry-necked left-hander won 19 straight and no one has come along to wipe out that performance. Those Giants were a hard hitting, fast running team with the likes of Josh Devore, Red Murray, Buck Herzog, Chief Meyers and Fred Merkle and had great pitchers in Christy Mathewson, Marquard, Jeff Tesreau and Red Ames.

In the opening game of the World Series Woody beat Tesreau, 4 to 3. I guess maybe John McGraw figured “Smoke” would beat any of his pitchers so he held Marquard and Mathewson back; although Tesreau was a great pitcher. The second game went 11 innings to a six-all tie with Matty pitching for the Giants and Bedient, Ray Collins and Charlie Hall, who died a few weeks ago, working for Boston. In the third game the Giants made it all even with Marquard getting a 2-1 decision over O’Brien. Then Wood and Bedient beat Tesreau and Mathewson in terrific 3-1 and 2-1 duels and we were ahead three games to one and it looked as if the series was about finished.

Boston Red Sox 1912 World Series

Boston Red Sox 1912 World Series

But the Giants weren’t through by any means. In the sixth game, Marquard beat O’Brien and Collins and in the seventh, the Giants took a toe hold and pounded Wood out of the box and kept on hammering O’Brien and Collins to win 11-4. So the series went into its eighth game on October 16 and that’s where I had my biggest day.

McGraw called on Christie Mathewson with the chips down and that was natural for Matty still was in his prime; his fadeaway was tough to hit and he knew every angle of the pitching business. Since Wood already had worked three games, and had been beaten the day before Stahl couldn’t send him back, so he started Bedient.

The game quickly took the form of a magnificent pitcher’s battle and I don’t think Matty ever was much better than that autumn afternoon. He turned us back with machine-like precision for six innings and by that time the one run the Giants had scored in the third began to look awful big. I got a double into right field in the first inning but through six innings that was about our only scoring chance. The Giants got their run when Devore walked, advanced on two outs and scored when “Red” Murray hit a long double. That the Giants weren’t another run to the good in the fifth was due to one of the greatest catches I ever saw. Larry Doyle hit a terrific drive to right that appeared headed for a home run but Harry Hooper cut it off with a running, leaping catch that was easily the outstanding play of the series.

Polo Grounds Right Field 1912 World Series

Polo Grounds Right Field 1912 World Series

Boston tied the score in the seventh due to confusion among the Giants. Stahl hit a Texas leaguer toward left and it fell safe when Murray, Fred Snodgrass and Art Fletcher couldn’t agree on who was to make the catch. Wagner walked and then Stahl sent Olaf Hendrickson up to bat for Bedient. Now Hendrickson was one of the greatest pinch hitters ever in the game; like Moose McCormick of the Giants. He was one of those rare fellows who could go up cold and hit any sort of pitching.

Matty worked hard on Hendrickson but the Swede belted a long double that scored Stahl. Then Joe Wood came in to pitch for us.

The score still was one-one going into the 10th and the Giants tried their best to put the game away in their half. Murray doubled again and he was the tough man for us all through the series and raced home on Merkle’s single. So there we were behind again with the last chance coming up.

1912 World Series on Playograph

1912 World Series on Playograph

Once more the breaks and big breaks went our way. Clyde Engle batted for Woody and reached second when Snodgrass muffed his fly in center field. Hooper flied out and Yerkes worked Matty for a pass. And I was the next batter.

It looked as if I was out when I cut one of Matty’s fadeaways and lifted a high foul between the plate and first base. The ball was drifting toward first and would have been an easy catch for Merkle. I was going to yell for Meyers to make the catch for I didn’t think he could, but before I could open my mouth I heard Matty calling: “Meyers, Meyers.”

Champions

Champions

Meyers chased the ball but it was going away from him and finally Merkle charged in but he was too late and couldn’t hold the ball. Fred was blamed for not making the catch and the term “bonehead” was thrown at him again, recalling his failure to touch second base in 1908. I never thought Merkle deserved any blame at all. It was Matty who made the blunder in calling for Meyers to try for the catch.

That gave me a reprieve and I didn’t miss the second chance. I got a good hold of a pitch for a single to right that scored Engle and the game was tied again. Then Matty walked Lewis, purposely, for Duffy always was a
money hitter, filling the bases. With Gardner at bat the Giant infield played in close on the chance of cutting Yerkes off at the plate. But Gardner was another who did his best when the chips were on the table and crashed a long fly that sent Yerkes home with the deciding run.

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