October 23rd, 2013
The 1913 Fall Classic matched two historic rivals—the Philadelphia Athletics and the New York Giants—that exist today if not in their original cities. This tenth World Series of the modern era marked the third between these clubs, who met in a spirit of rancor that cannot be understood without a bit of backdrop.
The upstart American League had defeated the Nationals in the 1903 World Series, but in 1904 John McGraw’s NL champion Giants refused to play because of their scorn for the new league. In 1905 the Giants topped their league again but this time were compelled to play in the World Series. Opposing Connie Mack’s “White Elephants,” as McGraw had derisively termed the AL champion Philadelphia Athletics, the Giants’ manager dressed his men in black. The theatrics prevailed, as the Giants defeated the Athletics in five games, all of them shutouts by future Hall of Famers: one by the A’s Chief Bender, another by the Giants’ Joe McGinnity, and three by Christy Mathewson.
In 1911 McGraw returned to the World Series for the first time, and found himself again matched up against the A’s. A superstitious sort, resorted to black uniforms for his Giants, and Matty topped Bender in Game 1, allowing a single run. But then the black magic wore off, and the A’s went on to take the Series in six. Giants lefthander Rube Marquard lost the second game on a home run by A’s third baseman Frank Baker. In his newspaper column the next morning, Matty criticized Marquard’s pitch selection, but in Game 3, he too surrendered a home run to Baker—who won a new nickname and, as Home Run Baker, would earn a plaque in Cooperstown himself. Six days of rain stood between Games 3 and 4—the longest mid-Series delay until these two clubs, relocated to the West Coast, were interrupted by earthquake in the 1989 World Series.
When the Giants and A’s met again in 1913, they were still the class of their leagues. The A’s had won the World Series in 1910 and 1911, and the Giants were making their consecutive World Series appearance. They had lost in 1912 in a heartbreaking extra-inning finale. Both clubs continued to rely upon aging mound stars—Mathewson, Bender, Plank—but the A’s had subtly become a different club. They had transformed themselves into the most formidable batsmen of the deadball era, led by their “$100,000 infield” of first baseman Stuffy McInnis, second sacker Eddie Collins, shortstop Jack Barry, and third baseman Baker. The Giants were a well balanced club, ranking first in pitching and second batting in the National League. The A’s, on the other hand, were tops in batting (as measured by OPS+) and next to last in pitching (ERA+) in the American League. By sabermetric accounting, these A’s were, in their 76 games at their new Shibe Park, the top hitting home club of all time.
The Giants returned to home whites and road grays for the 1913 Series, but it turned out luck was not a matter of black and white. The A’s won Game 1 behind Bender as Home Run Baker yet again made good on his nickname. In Game Two, the most exciting of the Series, Plank and Mathewson pitched shutout ball through nine innings. In the bottom of the ninth, with none out, the A’s had Amos Strunk on third and Jack Barry on second. The next batter, Jack Lapp, grounded to first, where George “Hooks” Wiltse, a lefthanded pitcher, was filling in. Wiltse made a good stop and threw home to nab Strunk. With Barry on third now and Lapp on first, Plank grounded to Wiltse and Hooks fired home again, nailing a sliding Barry. Thus did Wiltse make up, at least in part, for his ninth-inning disappointment of July 4, 1908 when, having retired the first 26 men to face him and with two strikes on the last—opposing pitcher George McQuillan—he hit him to spoil a perfect game.
But I digress. After Wiltse’s fielding heroics, Mathewson retired the next hitter, and the game went into extra innings. Plank yielded three runs in the top of the tenth, and Matty set the A’s down in order for what proved to be New York’s only Series win. Bender won Game 4 and Plank avenged his first-game loss with a brilliant two-hitter in Game 5. In an oddity, four of the five games were won by the visiting team. The A’s outscored the Giants 15-1 in the games’ first four frames; although the men of McGraw “won” the last five innings, it was a case of too little, too late.
Baker was the hitting star, as he had been in 1911. He rang up nine hits in 20 at bats, for a batting average of .450, while driving in seven. With catcher Wally Schang driving in another six, the pair accounted for 13 of the club’s 23 runs. Collins starred, too, going 8-for-19. It was a shellacking. Matty would never again pitch in a World Series. Bender and Plank would never win another Series game.
Like the great Cubs’ dynasty of 1906-08, the Giants had become the next NL club to win three straight pennants. But they lost in the Series each time, equaling the unhappy record of the Detroit Tigers of 1907-09. In the 100 years since the Giants’ defeat in the 1913 World Series, no other club has matched them in such misery.
The 1913 World Series was not without an irony visible from a century’s distance. These clubs would not meet again in the World Series until 1989, when they had long since become Bay Area rivals. The A’s again walloped the Giants, this time in a sweep. The Philadelphia A’s had a stopover in Kansas City from 1955-67 before settling in Oakland, where, surpassing their predecessors, the Oakland A’s won three consecutive World Series (1972-74).
50 years ago: The World Series of 1963 matched two clubs that had met many times before as the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. But the latter had moved to Los Angeles in 1957, and the Subway Series was now a Jetlag Series. The Yankees had defeated that other East Cost transplant, the San Francisco Giants, in 1962 and were returning as two-time world champions, having also defeated the Cincinnati Reds in 1961, the peak year of Mantle and Maris. But New York’s big bats were sawed into toothpicks by Dodger pitchers Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres, and Ron Perranoski. In a four-game sweep, the light-hitting Dodgers allowed their powerful rivals only four runs in the four games. In Game 1, Koufax established a new World Series mark (soon surpassed by Bob Gibson) by fanning 15 Yankees.
25 years ago: In the World Series of 1988, the Oakland A’s squared off against the Los Angeles Dodgers, an underdog as they had been 25 years before. Like the 1913 Athletics of Philadelphia, the Oakland A’s were centered on an awesome offense, led by Bash Brothers Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. Closer Dennis Eckersley was the featured pitcher. But a hobbled Kirk Gibson hit a memorable pinch-hit walk-off home run in Game 1, and the Dodgers took the Series in five. Home run heroics had been the hallmark of the 1913 Series, too.
Of our three anniversary World Series, none was a competitive classic. Across a century’s span, the losing clubs in these Series won a total of two games. Yet like all postseason series, this year’s commemorated classics provided heroes and goats, thrills and pratfalls, exultation and lamentation. Wait till next year! Which in this space will mean the Miracle Braves of 1914, Yogi’s rollercoaster ride in 1964, and the Sidelight Series of 1989, when tragedy took center stage.