January 14th, 2013

Clark Griffith Remembers

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith broke into baseball in 1887 with Bloomington, Illinois, of the Central-Interstate League. In the following year, at age 18, he joined Milwaukee of the Western Association. Griffith began his big-league career with the St Louis Browns and Boston Reds in 1891, the final year of the American Association.He spent the better part of the next two seasons out west, landing finally with Pop Anson’s Chicago Nationals near the end of the 1893 campaign. There he won twenty or more games six successive times. Griffith’s arsenal of pitches featured a sneaky and effective quick pitch and six different deliveries in which he mixed in spitters and outshoots. The Old Fox also took credit for the scuffball, proudly hacking the ball with his spikes.

In 1901 he helped to organize the American League as a major circuit, managing Charles Comiskey’s White Sox while continuing to toe the slab, as they said back in the day. He later managed the new York entry of 1903, today known as the Yankees, and the Cincinnati Reds of the National League. Griffith returned to the AL in 1912 as manager of the Washington Senators. He led the club to second-place finishes in 1912 and 1913 while purchasing 10 percent of the team’s stock for $27,000.

When Griffith’s managerial tenure ended in 1920, he bought out Washington’s old ownership. He and Philadelphia grain exporter William Richardson purchased 80 percent of the bedraggled team–in Charles Dryden’s immortal phrase, “first in war, first in peace, and last in the Ameican League”– for $290,000. Three times during Griffith’s long tenure as owner, the Senators went to the World Series. Once they won it, and that occasion is the subject of this reminiscence by the “Old Fox,” as told to Shirley Povich in 1944.

The day, bless it, was October 10, 1924. Of all the 10,000 afternoons I have spent in a ballpark during sixty-seven years as a player, manager, and club owner, that afternoon is my pet.

Calvin Coolidge was President of the United States, and incidentally, he was setting a new record for White House attendance at a World Series. Only a mild baseball fan up to that point, Mr. Coolidge was in a Griffith Stadium box seat for the third time during the Series. He was caught up in the excitement that swept on the heels of Bucky Harris’s pennant victory with my Senators, the first pennant ever won by Washington.

It was the day the Senators were battling John McGraw’s Giants in the seventh game of the World Series. Bucky Harris, a great manager, had pulled the sixth game out of the fire by singling in the tying and winning runs.

1924 World Series, Game 7

1924 World Series, Game 7

The baseball writers had called it “Griffith’s Folly” when I named the 27-year-old Harris manager of my club before the start of the 1924 season. He had only been a minor league manager for two years and he was rated as only an ordinary second baseman. But I liked his fight. He had showed ‘em a lot of fire. I liked Harris from the day I first saw him at Buffalo, where I scouted him personally. He knew I was in the stands watching him and he made eight hits in a doubleheader that afternoon, although he wasn’t supposed to be much of a hitter. But he was aching to get a chance in the big leagues.

I knew Bucky could take care of himself in the Series, even when he had to match wits with John McGraw. I liked his cockiness. He told me he thought he knew as much baseball “as that old buzzard McGraw,” even if it was his first year as a manager. Bucky didn’t ask his team to go out and win for him. He showed ‘em how.

Here’s the kind of a competitor Harris was: He had hit only one home run all season, because he wasn’t a home run hitter. Yet in the World Series he clouted two homers that won ballgames for us. He had hit only .268 in the summer and batted in only 58 runs in 544 times at bat, yet in 33 times at bat in the Series he hit .333 and drove in 7 runs.

Despite the fact that we had tied up the Series with the Giants in that sixth game, there was sadness in Washington because Walter Johnson, finally getting his chance in a World Series, had been beaten in two starts.

The afternoon before the final game, Johnson came to my office to pick up some seventh-game tickets. He was depressed. I tried to cheer him up by telling him we were counting on him to pull us through in the seventh game if we needed a relief pitcher. I made him promise to go home to his farm and rest overnight, to get away from the handshaking he always had to do when he stayed downtown. Walter said he would swap his World Series share for one more crack at the Giants.

Walter Johnson Pitching Course

Walter Johnson Pitching Course

Incidentally I never knew until after the Series that it had cost Walter Johnson $500 to get into the park for the Series game. Before the Series “friends” from all over the country had asked Johnson to buy Series tickets for them. He bought about $2,000 worth to accommodate them. A lot of those persons didn’t show up to claim the tickets Walter bought. When he went out to the mound to pitch the opening game, he had $500 worth of tickets to the games in his locker. He was so kindhearted, he had kept them right up to game time and was stuck with ‘em despite the fact they would have brought him five times what he had paid.

Well, to get up to the seventh game with the Giants, Bucky Harris had come to my house the night before with the plan that made baseball history.

“Tell me, if you think I’m crazy,” Bucky said, “but I’ve got an idea of how we can get a big edge on the Giants tomorrow.” And then he explained his idea. “That Bill Terry is murdering us,” said Bucky, “and McGraw is sure-pop to have him in there at first base if we start a right-hander. Terry loves righthanded pitching. He’s got 6 hits in 12 times at bat so far against our righthanders. Against lefthanded pitching McGraw will play George Kelly at first base.

Bucky Harris

Bucky Harris

“Here’s my idea,” recited Harris. “George Mogridge is the fellow who figures to beat the Giants tomorrow, but if we start him and have to shift to a righthander, McGraw will switch on us and bench Kelly and put Terry in there. I’m going to start Curly Ogden, a righthander, and that will get Terry in their line-up, and then I’m going to lift Ogden after he pitches to one batter and put in Mogridge. McGraw won’t leave Terry in there against Mogridge, and we ought to be rid of him for the day.”

That strategy sounded logical enough to me, even if it was a bit radical at first glance. I told Bucky I liked the idea. If he had nerve enough to try it, I was going along with him.

The trick worked. McGraw did let Terry stay in there and take two turns at bat against the lefthanded Mogridge, but in the sixth inning, after he failed to get a hit, McGraw put in Bob Meusel to pinch hit for Terry, despite the fact that Terry at the time was the leading hitter of the series with a .429 average. That got Terry out of the way, and Kelly was at first base for the rest of the game.

For three innings it was 0-0, and then Bucky Harris homered. The 31,667 fans went hysterical, but in the sixth the Giants got three runs off Mogridge and Fred Marberry. Going into the eighth, we were still behind 3 to 1. Jess Barnes, the Giants’ big right-hander, was doing a job on us, holding us to four hits, and the two runs we needed looked impossible.

Bill Terry

Bill Terry

I left my box seat to be ready to escort President Coolidge from the park and had just reached the steps near the Washington dugout when things began to happen. With one gone, Nemo Leibold, pinch-hitting for Tommy Taylor, doubled. I watched the rest of the inning from the steps, too superstitious to move. Muddy Ruel, who up to that point in the Series hadn’t made a hit, singled down his pet third-base alley to put the tying run on base, Leibold holding up at third. Bennie Tate, hitting for Marberry, walked. Earl McNeely flied out and Harris was next up.

If any World Series ever belonged to one man, this one belonged to Harris. He banged Barnes’s first pitch for a clean single to left and tied up the ballgame at 3-3. Those fans wanted to tear my stadium down.

The ovation for Harris, though, was nothing compared to what happened a few minutes later after the Giants finally got us out. As the Giants went to bat in the ninth, the park was in a fearful uproar because Walter Johnson was walking to the mound. Utter strangers were hugging each other in the stands because Walter was getting one more chance in the Series. It was his ballgame now, with the score tied at 3-3 going into the ninth.

I never saw such a grim face as Johnson’s when Harris gave him the ball and patted him on the back. Walter couldn’t talk. I actually saw him gritting his teeth. He grabbed that ball so hard the white showed through his knuckles. I was still watching the game from the dugout steps, still too superstitious to move. For four innings I stood there as Johnson, always in trouble, pulled out by fanning Giants in the clutch–he struck out five in four innings. Up to the twelfth we couldn’t score either. What happened then is the high spot of all my years in baseball.

Muddy Ruel, batting .050 with 1 hit in 20 times at bat, popped a high foul in back of the plate. As Hank Gowdy, the Giants catcher, reached for it, he stepped on his mask and went down in a heap, dropping the ball. Muddy expressed his gratitude by immediately doubling to left.

1924 World Series Pin

1924 World Series Pin

Bucky let Johnson hit for himself, and Travis Jackson fumbled Walter’s grounder, putting Johnson on first. But Ruel was held at second. Then along came Earl McNeely, for whom I had paid Sacramento $50,000 earlier in the season. McNeely then contributed the famous “pebble hit.” I can still see third baseman Freddie Lindstrom poised to take McNeely’s grounder on a nice big hop for the second out. And I can still see the
panic on Lindstrom’s face when the ball took a devilish hop high over his head for a freak single.

That was the hit that won the World Series, with Muddy Ruel scoring from second after what seemed an eternity of running the 180 feet from second base to the plate. Muddy was no speed demon.

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