World Series Centennial Review: 1914

Hank Gowdy

Hank Gowdy

In today’s climate of parity, fans are familiar with worst-to-first (and reverse) scenarios, most recently with the Boston Red Sox, last in their division in 2012, champs in 2013 and last again this year. In 1991 both World Series opponents rocketed from the cellar in the previous season to penthouse the next. But baseball has never seen a steeper climb than that supplied by Boston’s Miracle Braves in 1914, culminating in a sweep of the powerhouse Philadelphia Athletics.

Return with me now to that distant time. The Boston National League club had been one of the dominant teams of baseball’s early years, winning eight flags before the turn of the century. But after coming in second in 1899, the club dropped out of pennant contention for 14 years, finishing as far back as 66.5 games (in 1906) and losing as many as 108 (in 1909).

The new American League entry, the Red Sox, became the great attraction in Beantown, winning the inaugural Fall Classic in 1903. In 1912 they defeated the New York Giants in an epic eight-game contest that culminated in an extra-inning finale in which Smoky Joe Wood topped Christy Mathewson. That Boston victory interrupted a great run by the Philadelphia A’s, world champions in 1910, 1911, and 1913 and—after sailing to the AL flag past second-place Boston—the overwhelming favorite to win it all again in 1914.

Adding spice to the 1914 story was the debut of a rival league, the Federals, who lasted only two seasons but threw a scare into the established circuits. And there was another notable debut in 1914—that of pitcher Babe Ruth with the Red Sox on July 11. He won the game even though he struck out in his first at bat and later was lifted for a pinch hitter. The minor-league Baltimore Orioles‚ suffering heavy losses from Federal League competition, had first offered Ruth to A’s manager/owner Connie Mack, who declined.

Dick Rudolph, manager George Stallings, Lefty Tyler, Bill James,  Boston NL, 1914.

Dick Rudolph, manager George Stallings, Lefty Tyler, Bill James, Boston NL, 1914.

Over in the National League, the Boston Braves had risen to fifth in 1913 under new manager George Stallings. But on July 4 of the following season the club was in last place, 15 games behind the Giants and five games out of seventh place. But then the Braves won 52 of their last 66 games to capture the pennant, stunningly, by 10.5 games. Still, the pundits were unimpressed. In September Ring Lardner wrote, in a “Braves A.B.C.” ditty (in full here: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2014/09/30/the-braves-abc-by-ring-lardner/.)

Y is for You, you brave Boston brigade!

You’re made of the stuff of which champions are made!

If you win the title, you ought to feel great,

(Until the Athletics have trimmed you four straight.) 

Z is for Zowie! and Zowie’s the noise

That is made by the bats of the Connie Mack boys,

When the bats meet the ball, as they usually do,

(James, Rudolph, and Tyler, I’m sorry for you.)

Boston’s pitching heroes were Lefty Tyler, with 16 wins, and Bill James and Dick Rudolph, each with 26. At the bat and in the field the upstart Braves were led by their keystone combo of youngster Rabbit Maranville at shortstop and veteran Johnny Evers at second base. The defending champion A’s were led by their “$100,000 Infield” of, from first to third, Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Frank “Home Run” Baker, plus a pitching staff led by veterans Chief Bender and Eddie Plank, with a supporting cast that included Bob Shawkey, Herb Pennock, and Joe Bush.

Baseball in the Big Leagues, Evers 1910

Baseball in the Big Leagues, Evers 1910

The Series opened at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park with Bender (17-3 during the regular season) being rudely smacked around for six runs in his five-plus innings of work. Dick Rudolph cruised to a 7-1 victory while batterymate Hank Gowdy collected three hits plus a walk, on his way to a Series batting average of .545.

Game 2 was a 1-0 thriller, as Bill James and Eddie Plank matched goose eggs through eight innings. In the top of the ninth, A’s center fielder Amos Strunk lost Charlie Deal’s fly ball in the sun for a double. Deal then stole third and scored on a two-out single by Les Mann. James struggled to hold Boston’s lead in the ninth, allowing two walks around a strikeout of Wally Schang. With the tying run on second, Danny Murphy hit a shot up the middle that Maranville snagged, stepping on second and firing to first to end the game.

For Game 3 the clubs moved to Boston, not to Braves Field but to the larger Fenway Park, which the Red Sox had graciously offered. In another thriller, the A’s took a 4-2 lead into bottom of the tenth inning. But Gowdy opened the Braves’ half with a home run to center field. A sacrifice fly tied the score and sent the game on onto the twelfth, when Gowdy again played the hero, leading off with a double. Pitcher Joe Bush, after his 181st pitch (!), fielded a sacrifice bunt and threw it past the third baseman; Les Mann, running for Gowdy, scored. Lefty Tyler pitched the first ten frames for Boston and Bill James followed with two scoreless innings for his second win.

Philadelphia Athletics dugout prior to start of Game 1 of 1914 World Series at Shibe Park.

Philadelphia Athletics dugout prior to start of Game 1 of 1914 World Series at Shibe Park.

In Game 4 young Bob Shawkey took a turn for Philadelphia, matched against first-game winner Dick Rudolph. A fifth-inning single by Evers plated two and Boston closed out matters with a 3-1 win.

There had been a great upset in the World Series before—in 1906 the Hitless Wonder White Sox (team batting average: .230) had defeated the crosstown rival Cubs, winners of 116 games—and there would be again. But the hugely underdog Braves completed their mission with a sweep, the first in modern World Series history.

Rabbit Maranville, Eddie Collins, Globe-Democrat, August 15, 1915

Rabbit Maranville, Eddie Collins, St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 15, 1915

The Braves never won another world championship for Boston, although their Milwaukee and Atlanta descendants won in, respectively, 1957 and 1995. The A’s—whether from humiliation or financial concerns—blew up their team despite four pennants in five years. Within weeks, Connie Mack released Bender and Plank as well as 1910 World Series pitching star Jack Coombs. Before the new year he sold Eddie Collins, his top player, to the White Sox. Baker and Barry did not return, either.

The A’s went from first to worst in 1915, with a record of 43-109. The Braves finished second in 1915, but their wonder years were over; they wouldn’t finish that high again for 33 years.

50 years ago: The World Series of 1964 matched two clubs headed in different directions. For the New York Yankees this was a last hurrah, culminating a run of 15 pennants in 18 years. But they lost to  their old rival, the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games, two of them—including the ultimate contest—won by Bob Gibson. Jim Bouton also won two for the Yankees, including a game ended by a Mickey Mantle home run. Ken Boyer’s grand slam supplied all the Cards’ runs in a Game 4 victory. Tim McCarver’s three-run blast in the 12th ended Game 6. Gibson allowed two ninth-inning home runs in the finale but was permitted to stay in. When asked why he didn’t pull his starter, manager Johnny Keane replied, “I had a commitment to his heart.”

His commitment to the Cardinals, however, was not as strong: he submitted his resignation and, after the Yanks fired their manager, Yogi Berra, took his place at the helm.

25 years ago: Who won the 1989 World Series? Few remember that the Oakland A’s swept their cross-bay rivals the San Francisco Giants in four games … perhaps because it was conducted over a span of two full weeks. The intervening event that halted baseball for ten days just prior to Game 3 on October 17 was the Loma Prieta earthquake (magnitude 7.1), which caused 63 deaths and 3,757 injuries. Fortunately for the 62,000 with tickets to the game at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on that day, fewer than half had reached their seats by the time of the quake, reducing the load on the structure of the stadium. As to the World Series outcome, the A’s were led by pitchers Dave Stewart and Mike Moore, each with two wins, and the batting heroics of Rickey Henderson, Dave Henderson, and Carney Lansford.

This story will run in MLB’s World Series Media Guide, to be published in the coming days.

5 Comments

Another splendid retrospective by John Thorn. In his book on Shibe Park Bruce Kuklick states the 1914 Series was “thrown” by the Athletics. I wonder if there is any evidence so support his claim of a fix?

Sorry, I meant to write “I wonder if there is any evidence to support his claim of a fix?”

No hard evidence. But Red Smith, who knew Connie Mack from his days at the Philadelphia Record, said privately that Mack thought there might have been a fix. A more plausible explanation for his bruised feelings, though, was the weakened attendance at Shibe Park and the projected salary demands of his stars, fueled by the Federal League spending spree.

Thank you for your response. “Bruised feelings” does seem more plausible an explanation. Kuklick writes about Mack’s idea — a foolish one, I think– that a team which contended but finished fourth was more profitable than a championship club. Dismantling his first great team proved the folly of that notion. The Athletics finished last seven straight seasons (1915-1921)!

I did not know that Mack passed on Ruth, John. That tops all, including the Red Sox passing on Killebrew and Robinson!

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