World Series Centennial Review: 1915
Baseball before the curse … but which one? The Curse of the Bambino or that of the Billy Goat? Merkle’s Revenge, or Rocky Colavito’s, or Steve Bartman’s? The Sports Illustrated Cover Curse? Or the one circulating in Toronto this year—Taylor Swift’s concert schedule? Or the most recent, Murphy’s Curse? A fresh look at the 1915 World Series provides yet another spectral candidate: Philadelphia Phillies President William F. Baker.
The Phillies had been a powerhouse before the turn of the century. In 1894 they hit .350 as a team—with all four of their regular outfielders topping the .400 mark—yet somehow finished fourth. They had never won a pennant until this miracle year of 1915—when they did it with pitching.
The Phillies played in a bandbox park known as Baker Bowl, named for their owner, so it is unsurprising that they, and their slugging outfielder Gavvy Cravath, led the National League in home runs. But pitching is what separated them from the pack and gave them their seven-game margin over last year’s champions, the Miracle Braves. The Phils’ ERA of 2.17 was half a run better than their nearest competitor. Grover Cleveland Alexander was 31-10—next year he would record an amazing 16 shutouts. Erskine Mayer, Al Demaree, and Eppa Rixey filled out the formidable rotation.
Their opponents, the Boston Red Sox, likewise knew nothing of a curse, yet. They had won each of their two previous World Series (1903 and 1912) and they would win this one, too, plus those in 1916 and 1918. Indeed, in baseball’s first two decades of the century no club won more championships than the Red Sox. Smoky Joe Wood, hero of the 1912 campaign with 34 wins and then three more in the Fall Classic, was nursing a tender arm in 1915, which permitted manager Bill Carrigan to add a fifth starter—20-year-old Babe Ruth, who went 18-8 yet would not pitch in the Series. The Red Sox had a “big three” of Rube Foster, Ernie Shore, and Dutch Leonard, and they would combine to pitch all the innings in the five games against Philadelphia.
The Quaker City had been baseball’s World Series home: this year marked was the fifth in six seasons to be played there. The Red Sox elected to play their home games at Braves Field, with its greater seating capacity. The Phils might have gone the same route, playing at the A’s Shibe Park. But the penny-wise and pound-foolish Phils management didn’t want to share the profits. Instead they added 2,000 temporary center-field seats to Baker Bowl’s 18,000 capacity, and it would cost them dearly, both financially and, in the fifth and final game, on the field.
The Series opened at home, with celebrities George M. Cohan and John L. Sullivan in attendance. Grover Alexander was smacked around liberally yet limited the damage as he won over Ernie Shore, 3-1. With Boston trailing in the ninth, manager Carrigan sent Ruth up to pinch hit. Overeager against Alexander the Great, the Babe bounced out weakly to first. New York Times reporter Hugh Fullerton wrote: “Alexander pitched a bad game of ball. He had little or nothing [and only] luck saved the Phillies.” This would be the last postseason game the Phils would win until 1977 (they were swept in the 1950 World Series).
The historic feature for Game 2 was the presence of Woodrow Wilson and his new bride. Throwing out the first pitch, Wilson became the first seated President to attend a World Series game.
Filmmakers were busy recording Wilson and the action on the field. “Close-ups of all the players were taken,” notes the American Film Institute Catalog, “and for the first time a camera was placed behind home plate in order to obtain good shots of the playing action, which included four home runs.” The subsequently released five-reeler titled 1915 World’s Championship Series is, alas, a lost film.
The Series was closely contested, as the deciding run was not scored until the ninth inning in three of the games, and only in Game One was the margin of victory as much as two runs. Boston won Games 2, 3, and 4 by identical scores of 2-1, with the Phils notching 13 hits combined.
In Game 5, returning to Baker Bowl, Rube Foster pitched the whole way against Mayer and Rixey, but he was not as effective as he had been in Game 2. Twice he gave the Phillies a two-run lead as first baseman Fred Luderus drove in three runs with a double and a home run. But from the fifth inning on, Foster held Philadelphia scoreless on two hits, while Duffy Lewis evened the score with a two-run homer in the eighth, and Harry Hooper (who had tied the score earlier with a home run in the third) won the game and the Series with a second homer in the top of the ninth. Both of Hooper’s homers bounced over the fence, shortened by the addition of the temporary seats. Although such hits would late be counted as doubles, in 1915 they were home runs.
“If we had beaten Boston in ’15,” said Rixey in later years, “who knows what would have happened? We might have been a team to reckon with for a long, long time.” Instead, he was traded to Cincinnati, Alexander was sent to the Cubs, and Baker’s Curse would not be overturned with a World Series victory until 1980.
50 years ago: The 1965 World Series pitted two venerable franchises still in their first decade in a new home. The Dodgers had won only one championship in Brooklyn, that in 1955, but had taken two in their early years in Los Angeles (1959 and 1963). The Minnesota Twins, who had been the downtrodden Washington Senators until 1961, had not earned a title since 1924. The Twins sluggers defeated Don Drysdale in a Game 1 that Sandy Koufax declined to pitch because it was scheduled for Yom Kippur, then topped Koufax in Game 2. Returning to L.A., the Dodgers took the next three games. If home-field form were to hold, the Twins, after capturing Game 6, should have run the table, but on two days’ rest, Koufax threw a magnificent three-hit shutout in Game 7.
25 years ago: The 1990 World Series saw a return of the AL champs of the prior two seasons, the Oakland A’s, led by the Bash Brothers combo of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, bolstered by the speed of Rickey Henderson. In 1989, in a Series interrupted by an earthquake, the A’s had swept their Bay Area rivals, the Giants. This time around it was the NL champs, the Cincinnati Reds, who brought the brooms. Billy Hatcher and Chris Sabo led the Reds at the bat, Jose Rijo allowed one earned run across two starts, and the bullpen was unscored upon.
This story will run in MLB’s World Series Media Guide, to be published this week.