Snodgrass Muffs One

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

This World Series finale of 1912–featuring the veteran Christy Mathewson, the kid Smoky Joe Wood, and the ill-fated Fred Snodgrass–remains, more than a century later, one of baseball’s greatest games.  The wire services of October 18, 1912 reported, in a story headed “Faints When Son Muffs Fly”: “Los Angeles, Oct. 17–Overcome by emotion when the electrical scoreboard at a local theater yesterday showed Fred Snodgrass’s muff of the fly which cost the New York Giants the world’s championship title, Mrs. Snodgrass, mother of the New York outfielder, fainted.” Sixty-one years later, upon his death on April 5, 1974, a New York Times obituary bore this headline: “Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly” (http://goo.gl/KFSJbd).  

Modern readers may take special note of the diminished attendance for this eighth and final game (one game had ended in a draw, controversially called on account of darkness): “half the people” in Boston believed the Series had been fixed. Here’s the great Hugh Fullerton, writing for the Chicago Tribune

Boston, Mass., Oct. 16, 1912—Boston tonight is tearing down the statues of Bull Franklin, and Jack and Lefty Adams. In their places are now those of Tris Speaker, Hugh Bedient, Buck Henriksen, and Jake Stahl. Never since that memorable night when “Kid” Revere rode to Lexington and started a tenth-inning rally has Boston been so worked up, for the Red Sox are champions of the world by virtue of a 3 to 2 victory, due more to sheer luck than anything else. The Giants are crushed, having been beaten in the toughest luck finish that ever was known in a series of this sort.

With the championship in their hands, whether deserved or not, the Giants exploded in the tenth inning. A muffed fly on an easy foul that was permitted to fall safe, a little panic in the ranks, a final rush by the Red Sox, and it was over, and again the American League won the championship.

There is a bitter taste remaining in the greatest series of games ever played, for today Boston boycotted its ball club and the rumor that the series was fixed and all prearranged ran through the town. Half the people believed it, and in addition to that a great part of the people are boycotting the club because of the trouble between the management and the Royal Rooters yesterday, resulting in the mayor publicly denouncing Secretary McRoy.

The twin troubles which will make this World Series the most costly ever won, reduced the attendance to a little over half of what it has been, and those loyal seventeen thousand who refused to believe the ridiculous stories saw the most thrilling game of the entire series.

It was a battle between youth and experience and during most of the journey it seemed as if the skill and cunning of the veteran Mathewson would stop the Red Sox. It did until, with the count 1 to 0, with the Red Sox outguessed and outgeneraled at every point, Olaf Henriksen, with two strikes called and another nearly called, caught a curve and drove it over third, tying the score. From then on Boston went wild.

Joe Wood

Joe Wood

“Smoky Joe” Wood, summoned to redeem himself for yesterday’s frightful exhibition, responded nobly, but the Giants were full of fight and they battled him royally, expecting to rush the assault and win again, but when the ninth came with the teams still on even terms, with both pitchers almost unhittable, it looked like the finish would be delayed another day. Mathewson, matching his brain and his experience against the driving power of the Red Sox, was out there pitching, lobbing his slow one around the comers, shooting his fast one across at unexpected angles, while Wood was burning holes in the air.

In the first of the tenth, Murray caught hold of a fast one and ripped a line double into the left-field seats with what seemed the $1,500-per-man run when Merkle whaled a single past second with what seemed to be the $1,500-per-man hit. The victory was within grasp. Already New York was the world champion city, Broadway the world champion street, Harry Stevens the world champion score-card seller, Gyp the Blood the world champion gunman, and the greatness of New York was demonstrated. Then all the dope upset.

It had been demonstrated that the chosen people had it all over the pilgrims at any style of going until Clyde Engle came to bat and cracked a fly to center. Snodgrass muffed it and let Engle land on second. The luck that had pursued the Giants through the year and through the series suddenly deserted them. Snodgrass made a des­perate effort to redeem himself by jerking down Hooper’s line smash.

Snodgrass Details Events of Final Game

Snodgrass Details Events of Final Game

Mathewson, the greatest pitcher of all time, faces the crisis of his career. He had responded nobly with sore and worn-out arm, and he had outwitted, outguessed, and outgeneraled the Red Sox. In the pinch he wavered and passed Yerkes, and the Boston rooter who does not believe games are bought and sold raised a wild yell, for Tris Speaker was coming to bat—Speaker, the hero of the year. Mathew­son poised and dropped a slow curve inside the plate. Speaker, the man who, according to American League pitchers, is unfoolable, swung with the bad ball and lofted an easy foul fly toward first base.

Christy Mathewson, 1912

Christy Mathewson, 1912

Anyone could have caught it. I could have jumped out of the press box and caught it behind my back—but Merkle quit. Yes, Merkle quit cold. He didn’t start for the ball. He seemed to be suffer­ing from financial paralysis. Perhaps he was calculating the differ­ence between the winner’s and loser’s end. He didn’t start. Mathew­son saw the ball going down. Meyers saw that it would fall safe, and they raced toward it, too late, and the ball dented the turf a few feet from first.

On the next try Speaker lashed a vicious single to right—the score was tied, men on second and third, and after Lewis had walked and filled the bases, Gardner drove a long fly to Devore, out over his head. He caught it and made a despairing heave to the plate, but before the ball came to Meyers, Yerkes had crossed the plate, the greatest series of ball games ever played was over, and the Boston Red Sox were world champions.

While I still believe Boston ought to have won the championship because it is slightly a better team than New York, the Red Sox never should have won today’s game. Giving them all due credit, they had all the luck and all the breaks. The luck has been following the Giants all through the series, but today it turned upon them utterly. It re­quired a marvelous catch by Hooper, a catch I regard as the greatest of the entire series, to prevent them from beating Bedient by a clear margin.

They were outpitched by Mathewson all the way, for the foxy veteran, after announcing Saturday that he was done forever, to the doleful music singing his swan song, came back and pitched like a two-year-old. He wanted the money and he put $1,500 worth of thought into everything he pitched until the tenth.

Bedient, too, was good. He pitched a clever game of ball all the way, and used his speed well. The run that New York got off him was the result of a pass and a hit that just grazed Speaker’s fingers. American Leaguers will understand how close that was, for he seldom loses anything that touches a finger tip. After Bedient was taken out to permit Henriksen to slam a double over third and tie up the score and almost win the game, Joe Wood came back, and although he permitted the Giants to get ahead again in the tenth by plastering two hard hits, he may consider himself well redeemed.

14 Comments

Why did Snodgrass write the letter(I can’t read with these old eyes)? Was it to give his version so fans didn’t think it was part of a fix? And which play do you think is more notorious, Snodgras’s misplay or Fred Merkel’s boner a few years earlier?

Merkle Boner stands alone for fame/infamy. Snodgrass, Buckner next, in that order.

Thank you John. That’s what I figured. That Merkle play would have given the Giants the World Series that moment. I think it was Tinkers that tagged the base.

P.S. I did double click on the picture and read his defense. The poor guy makes the catch of the series but is remembered for the fly ball dropsie. I think he was in The Glory of Their times and was interviewed about it.

Oh, and any image at Our Game may be greatly enlarged by clicking once (often twice–after an intermediate page). https://mlblogsourgame.files.wordpress.com/2016/09/fred-snodgrass-signed-letter-detailing-events-of-the-final-game-of-the-1912-world-series_a.jpg

Evers, not Tinker, touched second with the ball, or rather *a* ball… More on this in G.H. Fleming’s story here (Lord, I have been at this a long time!): http://sabr.org/latest/sabr-digital-library-tnp-premiere-issue

Yes, the fans had poured on the field and allegedly Evers just picked up any ball. Great story. I read a book about that pennant race with summaries of all the games. Almost a 3 way tie.

I always enjoy the Our Game stories but this one has a special interest to me. As a big baseball fan and a sportswriter/historian residing in Vancouver, I have always been intrigued by both Merkle’s boner and Snodgrass’ muff. So you can imagine my delight when I opened a used copy of The Glory of Their Times after purchasing it some years ago and found something unexpected. Here is an excerpt from a story I wrote about it awhile back:

Through a rather bizarre circumstance, I’ve ended up with half an autograph from Fred Snodgrass, the unfortunate victim of the “$30,000 Muff.”
It’s one of the favourites in my collection of sports signatures because of who Snodgrass was and how I came to get just one half of his signature. (And how does someone get half an autograph anyway?)…
Sometime in the 1970s, I purchased a copy of The Glory of Their Times from a bookseller in Hawaii by answering an ad in a collectors’ magazine. I probably paid five dollars for it.
When I opened it, I noticed an inscription in the front of the book penned by a Jean S. Lefever: “To the Navy’s third baseman whose collection of stars I have watched, proudly. Proudly because I knew there were stars in his field before he did.”
I have no idea who the Navy’s third baseman was. However, next to a photo of Fred Snodgrass in his chapter in the book, and written in fountain pen, I found this note: “I have fond memories of our flight to Fort Bragg and now I am proud to greet my good friend as a four star Admiral. Congratulations!!!”
And it’s signed, Fred.
No doubt this is a real Fred Snodgrass autograph. Half an autograph actually.
Snodgrass’ obituary listed a surviving daughter as a Mrs. Eleanor Lefever. So Jean S. Lefever would be a relative who was giving a book to a friend of theirs and of Fred’s.
You can imagine my surprise and delight when this authentic signature of a famous deceased person – whose misfortune has fascinated me for years – fell into my hands without me even realizing it.
Searching the Internet, I find Snodgrass’ autograph listed for as much as $699.00 US.
Would half an autograph be worth half that?
Probably not.
But to me it’s priceless.

Outstanding, Len! Thanks for sharing.

All the seeds of the black sox scandal are exhibited here in the person of Wood. He threw the previous start, yet he is in the hall.

And Wood was also implicated in the bribery/fix of a series between the Indians and Tigers with Dutch Leonard, Tris Speaker, and Ty Cobb after Landis was commissioner. I think 1926.

No evidence that Wood “threw” that game. The “scandal” of 1919, revived by Hub Leonard, pretty much reflected run-of-the-mill conduct before Landis. See: https://1927-the-diary-of-myles-thomas.espn.com/closing-the-books-cobb-speaker-landis-e7896605fbc1#.62v3zlad5.

But plenty of evidence of a conspiracy-just no witnessed willing to go under oath.

I had read your entry in the Myles Thomas diary. But Charles Leershen also spends quite a bit of time on the subject in his bio TY Cobb Terrible Beast. But, yes, he also acknowledges that those kinds of favors were fairly common.

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