Yes, I am on a bit of a jag here, presenting deadball-era stars’ memories of their greatest day in baseball. The sources for these interviews are John Carmichael’s columns in the Chicago Daily News, plus a handful of other reminiscences added to his book collection, My Greatest Day in Baseball (Barnes, 1945). Below is one of these additions. George Sisler was an undeniably great ballplayer, starring for the St. Louis Browns from 1915 to 1927 and finishing with the Boston Braves in 1930. His lifetime batting average was .340, and his .420 mark in 1922 is still tops for American League batters since Nap Lajoie’s mark in the circuit’s first season; in that 1920 campaign he struck out only 14 times in 655 plate appearances. Sisler also hit .407 in 1920, the year he set a record with 257 hits, which survived until Ichiro Suzuki collected 262 hits (in 70 more plate appearances) in 2004.
In my youth there was still a debate among oldtimers whether he or Lou Gehrig deserved the accolade of best first baseman all-time. Yet in the sabermetric era, with its emphasis on slugging and on base percentage, Sisler’s star dimmed. In 1999, when MLB created its all-century team, the fans voted in two first basemen, Gehrig and Mark McGwire. Here is the unfairly neglected George Sisler, as interviewed by Lyall Smith.
Every American kid has a baseball idol. Mine was Walter Johnson, the “Big Train.” Come to think about it, Walter still is my idea of the real baseball player. He was graceful. He had rhythm and when he heaved that ball in to the plate he threw with his whole body just so easy-like that you’d think the ball was flowing off his arm and hand.
I was just a husky kid in Akron (Ohio) High School back around 1910-11 when Johnson began making a name for himself with the Senators and I was so crazy about the man that I’d read every line and kept every picture of him I could get my hands on.
Naturally, admiring Johnson as I did, I decided to be a pitcher and even though I wound up as a first baseman my biggest day in baseball was a hot muggy afternoon in St. Louis when I pitched against him and beat him. Never knew that, did you? Most fans don’t. But it’s right. Me, a kid just out of the University of Michigan beat the great Walter Johnson. It was on August 29, 1915, my first year as a baseball player, the first time I ever was in a game against the man who I thought was the greatest pitcher in the world.
I guess I was a pretty fair pitcher myself at Central High in Akron. I had a strong left arm and I could throw them in there all day long and never have an ache or pain. Anyway, I got a lot of publicity in my last year in high school and when I was still a student I signed up one day to play with Akron.
I didn’t know at the time I signed that contract I was stepping into a rumpus that went on and on until it finally involved the National Baseball Commission, the owners of two big league clubs and Judge Landis.
I was only 17 years old when I wrote my name on the slip of paper that made me property of Akron, a club in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League and a farm club of Columbus in the Association. After I signed it I got scared and didn’t even tell my dad or anybody ’cause I knew my folks wanted me to go on to college and I figured they’d be sore if they knew I wanted to be a ballplayer.
In a way, that’s what saved me, I guess. For by not telling my dad he never had a chance to okay my signature and in that way the contract didn’t hold. The way it worked out Akron sold me to Columbus and Columbus sold me to Pittsburgh and all the time I was still in high school and hadn’t even reported to the team I signed with! Wasn’t even legally signed the way it turned out.
They wanted me to join the club when I graduated from high school but I was all set to go to Michigan so I said “no” and went up to Ann Arbor. Well, to make a long story short the story came out in the open there and when the whole thing was over I had been made a free agent by the old National Commission and signed up with Branch Rickey who at that time was manager of the St. Louis Browns.
I pitched three years of varsity ball up at Michigan and when I graduated on June 10, 1915, Rickey wired me to join the Browns in Chicago. Now, all this time I was up at school I still had my sights set on Walter Johnson. When he pitched his 56 consecutive scoreless innings in 1912 I was as proud as though I’d done it myself. After all, I felt as though I had adopted him. He was my hero. He won 36 games and lost only seven in 1913 and he came back the next season to win 28 more and lose 18. He was really getting the headlines in those days and I was keeping all of them in my scrapbook.
Well, then I left Michigan in 1915 and came down to Chicago where I officially became a professional ballplayer. I hit town one morning and that same day we were getting beat pretty bad so Rickey called me over to the dugout.
“George,” he said, “I know you just got in town and that you don’t know any of the players and you’re probably tired and nervous. But I want to see what you have in that left arm of yours. Let’s see what you can do in these last three innings.”
I gulped hard a couple of times, muttered something that sounded like ”thanks” and went out and pitched those last three innings. Did pretty good, too. I gave up one hit but the Sox didn’t get any runs so I figured that I was all right.
Next day, though, I was out warming up and meeting more of the Browns when Rickey came over to me. He was carrying a first baseman’s glove. “Here,” he said. “Put this on and get over there on first base.”
Well, nothing much happened between the time I joined the club in June until long about the last part of August. Rickey would pitch me one day, stick me in the outfield the next and then put me over on first the next three or four. I was hitting pretty good and by the time we got back to St. Louis the sports writers were saying some nice things about me.
They were saying it chiefly because of my hitting. I’d only won two-three games up to then. I still remember the first one. I beat Cleveland and struck out nine men. Some clothing store gave me a pair of white flannels for winning and I was right proud of them. Didn’t even wear them for a long time, figured they were too fancy.
As I was saying, we got back to St. Louis late in August. Early one week I picked up a paper and saw that a St. Louis writer, Billy Murphy, had written a story about Washington coming to town the following Sunday and that Walter Johnson was going to pitch.
I was still a Johnson fan and I guess Murphy knew it, for when I got about halfway through the story I found out that he had me pitching against Johnson on the big day, Sunday, August 29.
That was the first I knew about it and I figured it was the first Manager Rickey knew about it, for here it was only Tuesday and Murphy had the pitchers all lined up for the following Sunday.
Well, he knew what he was talking about, because after the Saturday game Rickey stuck his head in the locker room and told me I was going to pitch against Johnson the next day. I went back to my hotel that night but I couldn’t eat. I was really nervous. I went to bed but I couldn’t sleep. At 4:00 A.M. I was tossing and rolling around and finally got up and just sat there, waiting for daylight and the big game.
I managed to stick it out, got some breakfast in me and was out at Sportsman’s Park before the gates opened. It was one of those typical August days in St. Louis and when game time finally rolled around it was so hot that the sweat ran down your face even when you were standing in the shadow of the stands.
All the time I was warming up I’d steal a look over at Johnson in the Washington bull pen. When he’d stretch ‘way out and throw in a fast ball I’d try to do the same thing. Even when I went over to the dugout just before the game started I was still watching him as he signed autographs and laughed with the photographers and writers.
Well, the game finally started and I tried to be calm. First man to face me was Moeller, Washington’s left fielder. I didn’t waste any time and stuck three fast ones in there to strike him out. Eddie Foster was up next and he singled to right field. Charley [sic; actual name Clyde] Milan singled to right center and I was really scared. I could see Mr. Rickey leaning out of the dugout watching me real close so I kept them high to Shanks and got him to fly out to Walker in center field. He hit it back pretty far though and Foster, a fast man, started out for third base. Walker made a perfect peg into the infield but Johnny Lavan, our shortstop, fumbled the relay and Foster kept right on going to score. That was all they got in that inning, but I wasn’t feeling too sure when I came in to the bench. I figured we weren’t going to get many runs off Johnson and I knew I couldn’t be giving up many runs myself.
Then Johnson went out to face us and I really got a thrill out of watching him pitch. He struck out the first two Brownies and made Del Pratt fly to short center. Then I had to go out again and I got by all right. In the second inning, Walker led off with a single to center field and Baby Doll Jacobson dumped a bunt in front of the plate. Otto Williams, Washington catcher, scooped it up and threw it 10 feet over the first baseman’s head. Walker already was around second and he came in and scored while the Baby Doll reached third.
I think I actually felt sorry for Johnson. I knew just how he felt because after all, the same thing had happened to me in the first inning. Del Howard was next up for us and he singled Jacobson home to give us two runs and give me a 2-1 lead.
Well, that was all the scoring for the day, although I gave up five more hits over the route. Johnson got one in the first of the fifth, a blooper over second. I was up in the last of the same inning and I’ll be darned if I didn’t get the same kind. So he and I were even up anyway. We each hit one man, too.
There wasn’t much more to the game. Only one man reached third on me after the first inning and only two got that far on Johnson.
When I got the last man out in the first of the ninth and went off the field I looked down at the Washington bench hoping to get another look at Johnson. But he already had ducked down to the locker room.
I don’t know what I expected to do if I had seen him. For a minute I thought maybe I’d go over and shake his hand and tell him that I was sorry I beat him but I guess that was just the silly idea of a young kid who had just come face to face with his idol and beaten him.
This may be my favorite ballgame of all. It is not baseball’s greatest (think Game 3 of the 1951 NL playoff, or June 14, 1870, when the Cincinnati Red Stockings finally lost a game), but it is the one I wish I had attended in person. I included it in my book Baseball’s Ten Greatest Games, more than thirty years ago. But instead of my reprising that piece for you now, why not let Ty Cobb tell you all about it? He was there, on that 30th day of September in 1907.
If I were asked to reassess my ten greatest games today, some of those games I chose for that book would drop off the list–how else to work in Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris and David Freese?
But not this one. Come along with me now: the Tigers of Crawford and Cobb are about to do battle with the Athletics of Plank and Waddell, and the lines at the ticket booths are long.
Ty Cobb, as told to Francis J. Powers
There was little brotherly love toward the Detroit Tigers when our club arrived in Philadelphia on the morning of September 27, 1907. That old city was baseball mad; it was mad at the Tigers and, judging from my mail, very mad at me. The wildest race the six-year-old American League had then produced was nearing an end, and the Athletics were leading the Tigers by a half game. It had been a four-way race all summer, with the defending White Sox, Athletics, Tigers, and Cleveland jumping in and out of first place. Now the chase had boiled down to a fight between the Tigers and Athletics, and it would be settled, practically, in the three-game series which was to open the next afternoon. There were only two series remaining for each club.
The Tigers had come on fast that year to be pennant contenders. Hughie Jennings, the famous shortstop of the old National League Baltimore Orioles, had been brought up to manage the team and his “E-yah!” cry and grass-picking had made him a popular figure. I was on my way to winning my first batting championship and was running the bases well. We had tremendous power, with Claude Rossman on first and Sam Crawford in center field, and I think those Tigers really were the first of the great slugging teams that later made the American League synonymous with power. We had some great pitchers, particularly Wild Bill Donovan, one of the finest men ever in the game, who won 25 games and lost only 4 that season. Ours was a fighting, snarling team that neither asked nor gave quarter–patterned after the old Orioles of Jennings and John McGraw.
Philadelphia resented us as upstarts, for Connie Mack still had much of the same team that had won the 1905 championship and then had lost to the Giants in that famous World Series where every game was a shutout. The Mackmen had sensational pitchers in Chief Bender, Eddie Plank, Rube Waddell, and Jack Coombs, and were a solid defensive team. They were hot to reclaim the championship they had lost to the White Sox the previous season.
We won the first game of the series on September 28, when George Mullin outpitched Chief Bender, and went into first place by a half game. Then it rained and a doubleheader was scheduled for September 30. There was the pennant. If we won, we had only Washington and St. Louis ahead, while the Mackmen had a series with Cleveland, which stayed in the race until September 27, before getting to the Senators. The “Naps,” as Cleveland was called in those days, were certain to give Philadelphia trouble.
When we went on the field to start play there were 30,000 fans looking on. There were 25,000 packed into old Columbia Park, which supposedly had a capacity of only 18,000, and the rest were crowded into windows and on the roofs of houses overlooking the field. There were fans, several rows deep, around the outfield, restrained by ropes and mounted police, and they weren’t the least bit friendly. Before that afternoon was finished and we left the park in the autumn dusk with streetlights aglow, I had experienced about every thrill that can come in baseball . . . or so it seemed to a 19-year-old boy.
Jennings picked Donovan to pitch for the Tigers, leading with our ace, while Mr. Mack started Jimmy Dygert, a spitballer. Mack had Eddie Plank, the southpaw who always was tough to beat, ready but decided to save him for the second game. You never saw and maybe never heard of another game like this one. It went seventeen innings and took three hours and fifty minutes to play. It produced great pitching and poor pitching, long crashing hits, and some of the most unusual incidents to be found outside the realm of fiction.
At the end of five innings, Philadelphia led us 7-1. The Athletics wasted no time in pounding Donovan. Topsy Hartsel opened with a single and stole second. Socks Seybold walked and Kid Nicholls sacrificed. Harry Davis’s hit bounced off Charlie O’Leary’s leg and into “Germany” Schaefer’s hands, but Seybold was safe at second and Hartsel scored. Danny Murphy beat out an infield hit, and then Seybold scored on Jimmy Collins’s fly and Rube Oldring sent Davis home with a double into the crowd.
Jennings would have had any pitcher other than Donovan out of the game before that inning finished, but Philadelphia was Bill’s hometown and his dad and relatives always came out to see him work, so Hughie never took him out there. It looked like foolish sentiment at that moment, but proved to be a good policy three hours later.
For a few minutes in the second inning it seemed as if we would get them all back. Rossman singled and was safe at second when Dygert threw wild, after fielding Bill Coughlin’s smash. Charlie Schmidt sacrificed and then O’Leary hit to the box. Dygert chased Rossman almost to the plate before throwing to Ossie Schreck, and then Claude hit the Athletics’ catcher so hard he dropped the ball. Dygert walked Donovan but then Rube Waddell came in and, with a pitch that broke from your waist to the ground, fanned the next two batters.
The Athletics got two more in the third, Davis hit a home run in the fifth and Collins and Oldring hit into the crowd for another score. So there we were, behind six runs. But as I said before, this Tiger team was a fighting team and we moved back into the game with four runs in the seventh. Two walks and an error filled the bases, and then Crawford drove one into the left field crowd for two bases. Another run scored on my infield out, and Crawford raced home while Murphy was making a great play on Rossman. Then we were only two runs behind. The Athletics scored one in their half, but we scored in the eighth and went into the ninth still two runs behind.
That ninth is one inning that always will remain bright in my memory. Crawford was on first when I came to bat, and I hit a home run over the right fence to tie the score. Right then and there Mr. Mack forgot about saving Plank for the second game and Eddie rushed to the box and retired the next three batters. We went out in front in the eleventh when I hit into the crowd after Rossman’s single, but we couldn’t hold the lead and the Athletics tied it, largely because of a wild pitch, at 9-all.
Then the game settled down to a brilliant duel between Donovan and Plank but at the same time produced some of the greatest confusion ever seen on any field. In the fourteenth inning, Harry Davis hit a long fly to center field which Sam Crawford muffed; it was good for two bases. Our team claimed interference, because a policeman had stepped in front of Crawford as he was following the ball along the ropes. “Silk” O’Loughlin was umpiring behind the plate (there were only two umpires in a game at that time), and it was his play. Both teams gathered around O’Loughlin, arguing and snarling. Finally O’Loughlin called to Tommy Connolly, umpiring at first base, “Was there interference?” Without hesitation Tommy called, “There was.” So Davis was out and that was lucky for us, since Murphy followed with a single after a would-be two-bagger had gone foul by inches.
During the argument with the umpires, Rossman and Monte Cross, one of the Athletics’ reserve infielders, threw some punches, and soon there were players and policemen all over the field. Rossman was tossed out of the game, and that started a new argument. Ed Killian, a lefthanded pitcher, finished the inning at first base and later Sam Crawford came in from the outfield to play the bag. After the game Connie Mack was bitter in his denunciation of O’Loughlin. It was one of the few times when he really roasted an umpire.
There was no further scoring, although I got as far as third in our half of the seventeenth, and at the end of that inning the game was called with the score still 9-all. There was no second game that day; it never was played, and the tie meant the championship for us. We left Philadelphia a half game in front and swept through Washington. The Athletics lost one to Cleveland and another to the Senators, and we clinched the pennant in St. Louis . . . Detroit’s first since 1887, when it was in the old National League.
Although I had the thrill of hitting the homer that finally tied the score and making two runs, the star of that game was Bill Donovan. I don’t recall a similar exhibition of pitching in my twenty-five years in the American League. Bill allowed eight runs in seven innings and only one in the next ten and he fanned eleven. The modern generation doesn’t remember Donovan, but there was a pitcher with great speed, a great curve, and a great heart. I’d like to have been half as good a hurler myself. I used to practice pitching and imagine myself out there in a tight spot.
The Athletics made twenty hits that day to our fifteen and we had seventeen runners left on base to their thirteen. They made six errors, so during that one long afternoon there was just about everything to be found in baseball.
Some men’s characters are summed up in their physical presence. As a young 6’1”, 150-pound catcher born in 1862, Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy (“Slats” Mack to all but the census takers) presented so odd a specter that when he teamed with the equally bony pitcher Frank “Shadow” Gilmore in Washington in the 1880s, they were called “The Grasshopper Battery.” Writer Wilfrid Sheed said that as a manager of the Philadelphia Athletics in his later years Mack, with his angular body and patrician bearing, looked “like a tree from the Garden of Eden.”
We paint a mind’s-eye picture of him as upright (in both the physical and moral senses of that word) as he sat in the dugout in a business suit and positioned his players with a wave of the scorecard. Yet the real Mr. Mack (it seems almost blasphemy to call him by his first name) was, like his old rival Clark Griffith, a very sly fox indeed. As a catcher his fine defensive skills were, shall we say, augmented by his ingenuity. In those days any caught foul was an out–even a tip with no strikes or only one–so Connie liked to make a noise that resembled a ball hitting a bat on a swinging strike. He was also good at impeding a batter’s swing with the brush of his glove, invariably offering apology for his clumsiness. When he became a manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1890s, it is said he put the baseballs on ice the night before the game to deaden them.
Mack’s earliest days as a player were with his hometown nine of East Brookfield, Massachusetts, a village of barely 1,000 but so in love with baseball that it raised $100 to bring Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings to town one day in 1883. Mack joined the professional ranks the following season with Meriden, at the “stupendous” salary of $90 per month, then moved up to Hartford, and, at season’s end, his contract was purchased by the New York Mets of the American Association, a big league at the time. But he never played for the Mets, who sold him along with four other players to Washington for $3,500. He became a solid player with the Solons, and enjoyed his best year at the bat with Buffalo in the lone year of the Players League, 1890. He concluded his eleven-year career as a player with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who also gave Mack his first managing post, but he left in 1896 in a dispute with a meddling owner.
He moved on to manage the Milwaukee entry in Ban Johnson’s Western League, which in 1900 became the American League. When the American League challenged the National League by putting a team in Philadelphia, Mack got the chance to manage there. He also bought 25 percent of the club’s stock. Connie, who had salted away some of his salary, retained the job of manager through 1950, a prodigious run of fifty-one years.
John McGraw, no fan of the new American League or Ban Johnson, its president, who had virtually banned him for his umpire-baiting as manager of the 1901-1902 Orioles, said the Philadelphia operation was doomed to be a “white elephant”–a sure money-loser. The canny Mack wore the insult as a badge of pride and adopted a logo that survives to this day, mystifying the fans in Oakland. The A’s topped the American League in 1904, but McGraw extended the feud by refusing to match his Giants against them in the World Series, inaugurated the year before between Boston and Pittsburgh. When the Giants defeated the A’s in five games in the all-shutout Series of 1905, Mack vowed to gain revenge. His white elephants stomped McGraw’s men handily in 1911 and 1913, by which time they were cavorting in the new concrete-and-steel palace that would one day be named for Mack, but which had been christened Shibe Park after the A’s majority owner, baseball equipment magnate Ben Shibe.
Mr. Mack was beloved by his players and known for his ability to build a pitching staff around young talent. But when his highly favored A’s were toppled in the 1914 World Series by the “Miracle Braves” of Boston, he dismantled his franchise. He suspected that gamblers had reached some of his players, he later wrote to Red Smith. His team fell to last place in 1915 and stayed there for seven years. Mack felt his operation could be more financially successful with a first-half contender that settled into third or fourth place than with a pennant winner, which would certainly inspire the players to demand higher salaries. Gradually he built another powerhouse, featuring such future Hall of Famers as Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx, and Al Simmons. The A’s of 1929-1931 won three pennants and two World Series, right when Ruth and Gehrig were at their peaks. But the stock market crash and ensuing Depression brought the team to its knees, and once again Mack sold off his stars, this time from dire necessity. From 1934 through 1950 his team finished in the first division only once, but even though he was past the age of seventy, Mack didn’t fear for his job; since 1937 he had been the A’s sole owner.
Here the Tall Tactician tells John Carmichael of the Chicago Daily News about his greatest day in baseball.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen some great baseball in my days. It is wonderful to remember pitchers like Matty and Walsh and Waddell and Johnson and Dean and Grove for more than 40 years. But to me the most thrilling World Series ever played was between the Cubs and Athletics in 1929 and I’ll never forget the performance of Howard Ehmke. You see, Howard and I sort of put a fast one over on everybody and an old man likes to enjoy a chuckle at the expense of a younger generation. Only the two of us knew, two weeks ahead of time, that he was going to pitch the opening game, October 8.
We were leaving on the final western trip of the regular season when I called Howard up to my office in Philadelphia. We had the pennant pretty well in hand by then and so did the Cubs, so we could make plans. Ehmke came in and sat down and I watched him for a few minutes while we just chatted and finally I said: “Howard, there comes a time in everybody’s life when he has to make a change. It looks like you and I finally must part.”
Well, he didn’t say a word for the longest time, it seemed, just twiddled his hat and then he looked right at me and said: “All right, Mr. Mack, if that’s the way it has to be. You’ve been fine to me and I haven’t been much help to you this year. Lucky you haven’t needed me. But I’ve been up a long time and I’ve always had an ambition to pitch in a World Series . . . anywhere, even for only an inning. Honestly, I believe there’s one more good game left in this arm . . .” and he held it up to me like a prize fighter showing his muscle.
I couldn’t help smiling. Howard of course, had no way of knowing what I thought of him. Really he was one of the most artistic pitchers of all time. He was bothered with a sore arm most of his major league career, but he had a great head on him and studied hitters. He might have been a fine pitcher. So I asked him: “You mean you think you could work a World Series game?” He told me: “Yes, Mr. Mack. I feel it.” Then I explained what I had in mind. “So do I,” I said. “I only wanted to see how you felt about it. Now you stay home this trip. The Cubs are coming in. Sit up in the stands and watch them. Make your own notes on how they hit. You’re pitching the first game but don’t tell anybody. I don’t want it known.”
After he’d gone I sat thinking about Howard. Maybe he never realized how close he came to not pitching at all. If he hadn’t talked the way he did . . . if he’d said, for instance: “I realize I’m all through . . . my arm is gone” and accepted what he thought was dismissal, I wouldn’t have worked him even though I had no intention of letting him go anyway.
Finally the big day came around in Wrigley Field. Funny part of it was that none of my players nor even the newspapermen, bothered to ask me who’d start. They all took it for granted it would be Grove, or maybe Earnshaw. Since then people have asked me why I didn’t start Grove, but that’s a secret. I can’t tell, but there was a reason. Anyway we were in the clubhouse before the game and somebody asked Grove if he was working and I heard him say: “The old man didn’t say nothin’ to me.” Mose probably figured it was Earnshaw. When we got outside, they all threw the ball around. Ehmke must have had a sudden doubt that his dream was coming true because he came up to me on the bench and whispered. “Is it still me, Mr. Mack?” I said. “It’s still you . . .” and he was smiling as he walked away.
When it came time for the rival pitcher to warm up, Ehmke, naturally, took off his jacket and started to throw. I made sure I was where I could look along our bench and you could see mouths pop open. Grove was looking at Earnshaw and George was looking at Mose. Al Simmons was sitting next to me and he couldn’t stop himself in time. “Are you gonna pitch him?” he asked in disbelief. I kept a straight face and looked very severely at him and said: “Yes, I am Al. Is that all right with you?” You could sense him pulling himself out of his surprised state and he replied quickly. “If you say so, it’s all right with me, Mr. Mack.”
Voices were muttering down the dugout. Phrases like “the old man must be nuts” and “hell, the guy’s only finished two games all year” trailed off for fear I’d hear ‘em. But I heard. I’ve often wondered what they’d thought of me if we’d been beaten with Grove and Earnshaw and Walberg on the bench. Bob Quinn, who was president of the Red Sox then, was in a box behind our dugout and he said he almost swooned when he saw Ehmke peel off his coat. I suppose the fans and the gentlemen of the press thought old Connie was in his dotage at last. But I was certain about Howard, although if he’d had any trouble early I would have had Grove in the bull pen. We didn’t want to lose.
It was beautiful to watch. I don’t suppose these old eyes ever strained themselves over any game as much as that one. Ehmke was smart. He was just fast enough to be sneaky, just slow enough to get hitters like Wilson and Hornsby and Cuyler, who like to take their cuts, off stride. If you recall, he pitched off his right hip, real close to his shirt. He kept the ball hidden until just before he let it go. The Cubs never got a good look at it and, when they did, it was coming out of those shirts in the old bleachers. Charley Root was fast himself and by the end of the sixth inning neither team had scored. Then Jimmy Foxx hit over Wilson’s head, into the stands, and we led 1-0.
Jimmy touched home plate and came back to the bench and Ehmke said: “Thanks, Jim” and I knew he’d made up his mind maybe that was all the runs he’d get and it would have to do. Only in the third had Howard been in a jam when McMillan singled and English doubled with one out and Hornsby and Wilson were up. Some of my players looked at me as if to say: “Better get somebody warmed up . . . here’s where Ehmke goes,” but he stood there calm and unhurried and struck out the two men on seven pitches. You could tell the crowd had caught the melodrama of what was going on; I don’t believe I ever felt as happy in my life as when he fanned Hornsby and Wilson. Very few pitchers would have done as well in such a tense situation. He justified my faith in him right there.
In the seventh, after Foxx’s hit, Cuyler and Stephenson each singled and Grimm sacrificed. Joe McCarthy decided on pinch hitters. He had Cliff Heathcote hit for Zach Taylor and Simmons took care of a short fly for the second out. Then Gabby Hartnett batted for Root and I was tempted to have Howard put him on and take a chance on the next man, but I said to myself:
“No. This is his game. He asked for it and I gave it to him.”
He struck out Hartnett and we got two runs in the ninth on fumbles by English. I relaxed a little then, but we weren’t quite out of the woods. The Cubs got the tying runs on bases in the ninth, with two out and Charlie Tolson up to pinch-hit. If Ehmke fanned him, he’d break the strikeout record for world series play set by Ed Walsh against the Cubs in 1906 when he fanned 12. Howard already had struck out Hornsby, Wilson, Cuyler and Root twice each. It happened. Tolson went down swinging, too, for Howard’s 13th strikeout and the battle was over. He has lived on that game ever since. So have I.
Sol White wasn’t just a sure-handed, line-drive-hitting infielder in black baseball of the nineteenth century; he was one of its founding fathers, and its historian. White and Philadelphia sportswriter Walter Schlichter founded the Philadelphia Giants in 1902, and this was the most powerful black club of the time. According to the records, they played 680 games from 1902 through 1906 and won 507 of them. In 1903 they played the “Cuban X-Giants” in the first-ever “Colored Championship of the World.” A young pitcher named Rube Foster won four games for the Cuban X-Giants to upset White’s team. The next year Foster came over to pitch on White’s side, and they won. Although there was no formal league structure, in 1905 the Philadelphia Giants won 134 games and lost just 21. They challenged what they thought was the second best black team to a World Series; the opponents never showed. After going 108-31 in 1906 they issued a challenge to play the winner of the white World Series to see who was truly best. No one answered then, either.
White’s 1907 book The History of Colored Baseball (with a rare 1908 supplement) is both a work of history and advocacy; in it White cautions black players that their skills are more valuable than showboating or clowning. He looks forward to the day when black and white players will be able to play together. “An honest effort of his great ability will open the avenue in the near future wherein [the black player] may walk hand in hand with the opposite race in the greatest of all American games—baseball.” Born just three years after the Civil War, White lived to see his dream come true. After his active involvement with baseball ceased in 1926, he continued to write about the game for The New York Amsterdam News. This article/interview is from The Pittsburgh Courier, March 12, 1927:
Sol White Recalls Baseball’s Greatest Days
Early Struggles of Those Who Made Game Possible Is Reviewed
By Floyd J. Calvin
NEW YORK, March 10—If you were asked to name who you considered the greatest figures in colored baseball history, could you give an intelligent answer? I put this question to Sol White, organizer and manager of the Philadelphia Giants from 1902 to 1908, and this is his answer:
Cos Govern, Cuban Giants
J.M. Bright, Cuban Giants
Walter Schlichter, Phila. Giants
Ambrose Davis, N. Y. Gorhams
Nat Strong, Promoter
J.W. Connors, Brooklyn Royal Giants.
Rube Foster, American Giants
C. I. Taylor, Indianapolis A. B. C.’s
Jess & Eddie McMahon, Lincoln Giants
Jim Keenan, Lincoln Giants
Ed Bolden, Hillsdale.
That’s Sol White’s list. Sol, once famous figure on the diamond and veteran manager, is now retired, living at 207 W. 140th street. He has been close to the game since its beginnings in 1885 and he hardly talks about anything else. The Courier representative was glad to find somebody who really knew the history of the game and was willing to talk. Sol has even written a history of the game. His “Sol White’s History of Colored Baseball” appeared so long ago that there are ads in the back reading like this: “For A Bottle of Good 50c Whiskey Go to McGettigan’s, 700 South 11th street, Philadelphia, Pa., Golden Age Whiskey a Specialty.” That “50c” sounds like ancient history in these parts.
Sol White (King Solomon White) was born at Bellaire, Ohio, June 27, 1868. His professional baseball career began in 1887 when he went with the Keystones of Pittsburgh, then In the Colored National League. Other clubs in the league at that time were the Resolutes of Boston, Lord Baltimore of Baltimore, Gorhams of New York, Washingtonians of Washington, Pythians of Philadelphia and the Louisvilles of Louisville.This was the first colored league in the United States and Walter Brown of Pittsburgh was president and secretary.
After a season with the Pittsburgh Keystones Sol joined the white Keystones of Wheeling, W. Va., as left field and later played second base. Next he went with the Wheelings, another white club of the Ohio League, then the Tri-State League, as third baseman. At the end of the season they drew the color line and that was the end of his career on big league white teams.
Bellaire, Ohio, where Sol was born, had three white teams, the Lilies, the Browns, and the Globes. As a boy Sol hung around the Globes and there came the time when the Globes had an engagement with the Marietta team. One of the Globe players got his finger smashed and since they all knew Sol, the captain pushed him into the game. Sol will always remember that game for the captain and second baseman of the Marietta team was none other than Ban B. Johnson, in later years president of the American League and a leading sportsman of the West. Sol takes pride in having played against Ban when he was an obscure captain of a hick town club.
In 1888 the rule barring colored players in the Tri-State League was rescinded and Sol was sent to Lima to Join the Wheeling team, then on the road, but the manager refused to use him. He then went back to the Pittsburgh Keystones and came to New York for the first time to compete for the silver ball offered by J. M. Bright, owner of the Cuban Giants. The teams competing were Hoboken, Long Island City, Norfolk Red Stockings, Gorhams and Cuban Giants of New York as well as the Keystones.
Now we may begin a chronological story of So! white’s baseball career.
1889—With New York Gorhams as catcher, first and second base. Salary $10 per week and expenses.
1890—With J. M. Bright’s Cuban Giants as left fielder part of season, then went with J. Monroe Kreider’s York, Pa., team as second basemen.
1891—Back with Cuban Giants, behind in salary. Went with Big Gorhams of New York, owned by Ambrose Davidson (also owner of regular Gorhams), both Gorhams that year managed by Cos Govern.
1892—Started with revived Pittsburgh Keystones awhile—dull year. Went to Hotel Champlain at Bluff Point, N. Y., under same headwaiter who started Cuban Giants (Frank P. Thompson) and played on Hotel Team.
1893—From first of season to June with Boston Monarchs, A1 Jupiter, manager, then back with Cuban Giants, New York.
1894—With Cuban Giants.
1895—With Fort Wayne, Ind., Western Inter-State League team (white) as second baseman, $80 per month. League disbanded in June; joined Paige [sic; should be Page] Fence Giants, Adrian, Mich., $75 per month and expenses (a colored team) as second baseman. The name “Paige Fence” was from man who invented wire fences for farms.
1896—With Cuban Giants.
1897—With Cuban X Giants. These players broke away from J. M. Bright’s Cuban Giants because they didn’t like his methods. They got a Frenchman, E. B. LeMar, to act as manager. LeMar was not a sportsman, but merely a follower. His job was principally that of bookkeeping. The men were guaranteed $80 per month on the cooperative plan. Sol played second base. The “Co” plan (as the cooperative plan was popularly known) was a system whereby all expenses were deducted from the gross receipts and the balance evenly distributed between the players.
1898, 1899, with Cuban XGiants.
1900—Short stop with Columbia Giants, Chicago, John Patterson, manager.
1901—Back to New York with Cuban X Giants.
1902—Organized the Philadelphia Giants and was captain and manager. Was associated in this venture with Walter Schlichter (white) sports editor of the Philadelphia Item, a daily paper, who was booker. First year on cooperative plan. Cuban X Giants main rivals. Played in Pennsylvania and New York. Uneventful season.
1903—Reorganized Giants and put men on salary; used big league plan and paid from $60 to $90 per month. Brought in Harry Buckner, Chicago, William Binga, John Patterson, Bob Foot. Branched out and got into Atlantic City for games where Cuban X Giants had kept them out season before. Got in Independent League composed of Harrisburg, Williamsport, Altoona, Lancaster (all white clubs) and Cuban X Giants. Made good and paid well. Sol played shortstop first year and second base second year. In 1903 Rube Foster was on rivals, Cuban X Giants.
1904—Changed personnel. Got Andrew Rube Foster and paid $90 per month as pitcher. Played white teams at 136th street and Fifth avenue, New York, brought by McMahon brothers (Eddie and Jesse). Also played Ridg[e]wood and Long Island clubs at Brighten oval.
1905—Changed line-up to strongest organization of the time. Kept Robe Foster and brought in “Home Run” Johnson as shortstop. White clubs of the Indpendent joined organized baseball. This year the Philadelphia Giants played several games in New England against the New England League (white) and never lost a game. Also played the Newark International League Team, then under the management of Ed. Barrow, now secretary of the New York Yankees. Beat the International Leaguers four games straight.
1906—Changes. “Home Run” left to manage Brooklyn Royal Giants for John W. Connors. Jesse McMahon started Philadelphia Quaker Giants and raided Philadelphia Giants and got Will Monroe and Chappy Johnson. Nat Harris of Chicago took “Home Run’s” place as shortstop and Bill Francis took Monroe’s place on third base.
1907—Got John Henry Lloyd, Willie James, Bruce Petway, Geo. Washington (pitcher), G. A. Rabbit and Ashby Dunbar to replace old men who left.
1908—Got Duncan, fielder, Fisher, pitcher, Hayman, pitcher. This was the last season of the club under Sol. Schlichter took club over.
1909—Philadelphia Quaker Giants under McMahon disbanded. Sol strung along with his old team.
1910—Managed Connor’s Brooklyn Royal Giants.
1911—Organized Lincoln Giants for McMahon brothers, and took job as manager. Left early in season.
1912—Organized Boston Giants in New York. Went thru season, but business was dull. Went home to Bellaire, O., late in season and retired from same until 1920.
1920—Got Rube Foster to put team in Columbus, O., in Western League. Was secretary of the “Buckeyes” of Columbus to 1924.
1924—Managed Cleveland Browns in Western League. Disbanded same season.
1926—Assisted Andrew Harris coach Newark team.
Although the game in many respects treated him rough, Sol has only the best of wishes for it. He admits that in the heydey of his glory, in 1905, 06, and 07 (the latter year the one in which he published his history) he was high strung, still he is a calm, quiet man now who likes to go to the library and read good books when he is not at work. His object in telling his story is to let some of the younger fellows know something of what is behind them—something of the struggles that have made possible the improved conditions of the present. He is one man who has given his life, unselfishly, to the game purely for the love of it. He can tell of many times when his men were on the “co” plan how he gave up all of his money in order to keep his players together. Some others went into the game to make money, and made it, but Sol takes greater pride in having watched the game develop to where it is today, although he has no money to show for it. He has a new book he would like to publish, a kind of second edition to his old one, bringing the game from 1907 down to date, and if there is anybody anywhere in sports circles who thinks enough of what has gone before to help Sol print his record, he will be glad; to hear from them. Without a doubt this record will prove valuable in years to come. Sol’s personal copy of his own book is the only one he knows about and it would be a historical tragedy if this should be lost.
White died penniless on Long Island in 1955, and he is buried in an unmarked grave in Frederick Douglass Cemetery in the Oakwood neighborhood of Staten Island, NY. A surviving copy of “History of Colored Baseball” sold in the September, 1997 Christie’s auction for $18,400.
Sol White was named to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
Let me tell you how this wonderful reminiscence by a seemingly nondescript Red Sox pitcher came to light. When I created The National Pastime (TNP) as an annual publication for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) back in 1982, I was new to the organization, having joined only a few months earlier. I wanted to present a bang-up list of contributors, all SABR members, in order to showcase the society to those on the outside looking in. Here is a partial contributor list from that debut issue: Bob Broeg; G.H. Fleming; John Holway; Pete Palmer; Mark Rucker; Harold Seymour, Ph.D.; David Voigt; Frank J. Willliams–and Lawrence S. Ritter.
I asked Larry, the last named–and, like most of the contributors, a personal friend–to contribute one of the several interviews he had conducted for The Glory of Their Times (1966) that had not been transcribed in time for inclusion in that great, great book. (Red Barber and Stephen Jay Gould called it the greatest of all baseball books; I agree.) Larry said that each of the interviews had represented a great deal of work for him beyond mere transcription–that the rambling recall of men in their seventies had to be scrambled and then spliced … and he did not, in 1982, have the time to tackle the raw tapes of George Gibson or Specs Toporcer or Hank Greenberg, or Marty McHale, all of which I knew to reside, away from public knowledge, at the Baseball Hall of Fame Library.
All but one of these excluded interviews made it into the revised edition of The Glory of Their Times that appeared in 1992. But Larry never included the Marty McHale interview–conducted November 4, 1963, right after his session with Smoky Joe Wood–because he had not been the one who edited it into final shape. Now it can be revealed: I was.
Larry wanted to help SABR by taking part in the launch of TNP and he knew that I was, at that time, an editor by trade. So with plenty of caveats about how tough it would be to rearrange the several tapes into a more or less linear narrative, he invited me to take a whack at the job. Creating the transcription, marking it up, then taking scissors to create congruent parts and laying the sections out on the floor, Marty McHale sprang to life. My appreciation–call it awe–for Larry’s skill in presenting Harry Hooper, Sam Crawford, and more was magnified tenfold. Here is Larry’s interview, the one that remains missing from The Glory of Their Times.
Damon Runyon once wrote a story about me, saying this fellow McHale, who is not the greatest ballplayer that ever lived, is probably the most versatile man who ever took up the game. This was in the 1920s, after I had left baseball. So Johnny Kieran of the New York Times asked Babe Ruth about it, knowing he and I had been on the Red Sox together. Johnny said, “Marty played in the big leagues, he played football in college, he was on the track team, he was on the stage, he wrote for the Wheeler Syndicate and the Sun, he was in the Air Service”–and so forth. He went on listing my accomplishments until the Babe interrupted to say, “Well, I don’t know about all those things, but he was the best goddamn singer I ever heard!”
You see, I sang in vaudeville for 12 years, a high baritone tenor–an “Irish Thrush,” they called it then, and Variety called me “The Baseball Caruso.” But even before vaudeville, before baseball even, I used to work in a lot of shows around Boston and made trips down to Wakefield, Winchester–minstrel shows, usually–and sometimes these little two-act sketches.
So when I joined the Boston club, a bunch of us–Buck O’Brien, Hughie Bradley, Larry Gardner, and myself–formed the Red Sox Quartette. After a while Gardner gave it up and a fellow named Bill Lyons stepped in. This Lyons was no ballplayer, but Boston signed him to a contract anyway, just to make the name of the act look proper. We were together three years, and when we broke up I was just as well satisfied because it was quite an ordeal keeping the boys on schedule. They just couldn’t get used to that buzzer that tells you you’re on next. They’d be a couple of minutes late and think nothing of it, but you can’t do that in vaudeville, you know–you’re on.
I did a single for about another three years, which was not very good–just good enough so that they paid for it–and then Mike Donlin and I got together. Now, you may not remember Mike, but he was–well, he was the Babe Ruth of his day. “Turkey Mike,” they called him, because when he’d make a terrific catch or something he’d do a kind of turkey step and take his cap off and throw it up like a ham, a real ham; but he was a great one, he could live up to that stuff in the field or at the bat. His widow gave me some of his souvenirs: a gold bat and ball that were given to him as the most valuable player in 1905, some cufflinks, and a couple of gold cups, one from the Giants and the other from the Reds. He hit over .350 for both of them.
Mike and I were together for five years, doing a double-entendre act called “Right Off the Bat”–not too much singing, Mike would only go through the motions–and we played the Keith-Orpheum circuit: twice in one year we were booked into the Palace in New York and that was when it was the Palace, not the way it is now! They had nothing but the big headliners. When Mike left for Hollywood, I went back to doing a single. He made a bunch of pictures out there, and that’s where he died.
Which did I like better, baseball or vaudeville? Well, I’d call it about 50-50. The vaudeville was more difficult, the traveling. Sure, you had to travel a lot in baseball, but you had somebody taking care of your trunk and your tickets and everything; all you had to do was get your slip, hop onto the train, and go to bed. When you got to the hotel your trunk was there. In vaudeville you had to watch your own stuff. I used to say to Mike, you’re the best valet I know, because he was always on time with the tickets and had our baggage checks and everything all taken care of, right on the button all the time.
Of course, Mike and I wouldn’t have been such an attraction if it hadn’t been for baseball, so maybe I ought to tell you how I came to sign with the Red Sox in 1910. First of all, Boston was almost my home town–I grew up in Stoneham, that’s nine miles out and if you took a trolley car and changed two or three times, you could get to the ballpark. Which I’d done only once–I only saw one big-league game before I played in one, and Cy Young pitched it; I wasn’t really a Red Sox fan. But here comes the second reason for my signing: they gave me a big bonus. How big? Two thousand dollars, and back then that was money!
You see, that year for Maine University I had thrown three consecutive no-hitters, and the scouts were all over. I had a bid from Detroit, one from Pittsburgh, one from the Giants, and another from the Braves. And there was sort of a veiled offer from Cincinnati, which is an interesting story.
This Cincinnati situation, Clark Griffith was down there managing and when I reported to the Red Sox, which was in June, following the end of the college term, his club was playing the Braves, over at Braves Field across the tracks from the Huntington Avenue park. Now, the Red Sox were on the road when I and some other college boys reported. We had signed, but the Red Sox didn’t want us with them right away: they had to make room for us, they could only have so many players. So I remember that Griffith came over to the Red Sox park one morning to watch the boys work out. The clubhouse man told us we were all being watched–like you’d watch horses, you know, working out each morning, and he said if we wanted to stay with the club, better take it easy and not put too much on the ball and so on. See, the club usually asks waivers on the newcomers immediately upon reporting to see if anybody else is interested in them, and if so they can withdraw the waivers after a certain time.
I remember very definitely–I went out there and I was pitching to the hitters and I put everything I had on the ball, because after looking over that bunch of Red Sox pitchers I could see there was not much chance for a young collegian to crack that lineup.
At any rate, Griffith must have put in some claim, you see, because two days later I was on my way to Chicago to join the Red Sox. They had withdrawn the waivers. I joined them in Chicago and we went from there to Cleveland. I remember my pal Tris Speaker hurt his finger in Chicago and he was out for a few days, and Fordham’s Chris Mahoney, who was an outfielder, a pitcher, and a good hitter, took his place.
He and I weren’t the only college boys on that team, you know: Bill Carrigan, Jake Stahl, Larry Gardner, Duffy Lewis, Harry Hooper . . . even Speaker went to–not the University of Texas, but Texas Polyclinic, Polytechnic or something of that kind out there; only went for two years, but he went. And Ray Collins and Hughie Bradley, too. Buck O’Brien, he came the next year, he said, “I got a degree, I got a B.S. from Brockton.” He said B.S. stood for boots and shoes, meaning that he worked in a factory.
Now on this day in Cleveland, we had Chris Mahoney playing right field, Harry Hooper moved over to center, and Duffy Lewis stayed in left, and Patsy Donovan put me in to pitch my first game in the big leagues against Joe Jackson and those Cleveland boys. I wasn’t what you’d call sloppily relaxed, but I wasn’t particularly nervous, either. You see, I was one ofthe most egotistical guys that God ever put on this earth: I felt that I could beat anybody. I struck out ten of those Naps, including Jackson. The first time he was up, I had Joe two strikes, no balls, and I did something that the average big-league pitcher would never do. Instead of trying to fool him with a pitch, I stuck the next one right through there and caught him flat-footed. He never dreamed I’d do that.
So the next time up there the same thing happened. He hit a foul, then took a strike, and then Red Kleinow, an old head who was catching me, came out for a conference. He said, “What do you want to pitch him, a curve ball?” And I said, “No, I’m going to stick another fast one right through there.”
He said, “He’ll murder it.” Well–he did! Joe hit a ball that was like a shot out of a rifle against the right-field wall. Harry Hooper retrieved it in left center!
Yes, I had ten strikeouts, but I lost the ball game. It was one of those sun-field things: a fellow named Hohnhurst was playing first base for Cleveland and, with a man on first, he hit a long fly to left-center field. Harry Hooper, who was in center this day, was dead certain on fly balls, but when Speaker was out there, as Harry said afterwards, he used to let Speaker take everything within range. Harry said he and Duffy Lewis didn’t exactly get signals crossed, but they were not sure as to who was gqing to take the ball.
Finally Duffy went for it, and just as he made his pitch for the ball the sun hit him right between the eyes and he didn’t get his hands on the thing and the run, of course, scored, and Hohnhurst, the fellow who hit the ball–he got himself to second base. Ted Easterly got a single on top of that, and anyway, the score ended up 4-3. That was it.
I was supposed to be a spitball pitcher, but I had a better overhand curve, what they called a drop curve–you’d get that overspin on it and that ball would break much better than a spitter. I had what they call a medium-good fastball, not overpowering but good enough, and if you took something off your curve and your spitter, your fastball looked a lot better. For my slow one, the changeup as they call it now, I tried a knuckler but never could get any results with it, so I stole Eddie Karger’s slow-breaking downer. He and I used to take two fingers off the ball and throw it with the same motion as we used for the fastball.
They still have those fellows today that throw spitters, but it doesn’t make much difference–because even when the spitter was legal in my day, in both leagues you couldn’t pick six good spitball pitchers. You’d take a fellow like Ed Walsh with the White Sox, the two Coveleskis, Burleigh Grimes, and the lefthanded spitter in the National League, who has since lost both legs, Clarence Mitchell.
Now, Clarence was a good spitball pitcher, but Walsh was the best. He worked harder at it, had a better break, had better control of it , and he pitched in more ballgames than any pitcher in either league over a period of years.
Eddie Cicotte, he was with us in Boston, you know, he was going with a spitter for a while. He used to throw that emery ball, too, and then he developed what we call the ”shine” ball. He used to have paraffin on different parts of his trousers, which was not legal, and he would just go over all the stitches with that paraffin, making the other part of the ball rougher. It was just like the emery situation, but in reverse, and an emery ball is one of the most dangerous, not like the spitter, which can be controlled. But Cicotte’s main pitch was the knuckleball, and he used that to such an extent that we called him Knuckles.
Joe Wood was with the Red Sox when I joined them, too. Now there was a fellow who could do nearly everything well. He was a great ballplayer, not just a pitcher, he was a good outfielder, he was a good hitter, he was a good baseman, he would run like blazes, he used to work real hard before a ballgame, he was just a good all-around ballplayer and a great pitcher. And he was a fine pool player, too, and billiards. He could play any kind of a card game and well; also he was a good golfer. I think that he could have done nearly everything. If he were playing football he’d be a good quarterback.
Joey was a natural–and talking about egotistical people, there’s a guy who had terrific confidence, terrific. Without being too fresh, he was very cocky, you know. He just had “the old confidence.”
I wasn’t with Boston the year they won the World’s Championship and Joey won those 34 games and then three more against the Giants, but I was at the Series and wrote a story about that final game. I saw the Snodgrass muff–he was careless, and that happens. But right after that he made a gorgeous running catch.
Earlier in that game Harry Hooper made the best catch I ever saw. I hear from Harry twice a year or so; he lives in California, and he’s got plenty of the world’s goods. Harry made this catch–he had his back to the ball–and from the bench it looked like he caught it backhanded, over his shoulder. After I sent my story to him, he wrote to me. “I thought it was a very good catch, too,” he said, “but you were wrong in your perspective. When I ran for that ball, I ran with my back toward it and you guys with your craning necks were so excited about it, when I ran into the low fence”–you see the bleachers came up from a low fence in Fenway–”the fence turned me around halfway to the right and I caught the ball in my bare right hand.” Imagine!
In 1913 I joined the Yankees–they weren’t called the Highlanders any more–and then three years later I went back to the Red Sox. Bill Carrigan, who was the Boston manager then, said, “Now that you’re seasoned enough you can come back and pitch for a big-league team.” The Yankees in those days were a terrible ballclub. In 1914 I lost 16 games and won only 7, with an earned-run average under three. I got no runs. I would be beaten one to nothing, two to nothing, three to one, scores like that. You were never ahead of anybody. You can’t win without runs. Take this fellow who’s pitching for the Mets, Roger Craig, what did he lose–22, something like that? What did he win–5? One to nothing, two to nothing, terrible.
When I got to New York Frank Chance was the manager, a great guy. He had a reputation as a really tough egg, but if you went out there and worked and hustled and showed him that you were interested in what you were doing he would certainly be in your corner, to the extent that he would try and get you more money come contract time.
I have a watch, one of these little “wafer” watches, that Chance gave me in 1914 after I guess about the first month. I had won a couple of games for him, one of them was the opening game against the World Champion A’s, and one day, just as a gesture, he said, he gave me this watch.
Frank and I were such good friends that late in 1914, when we were playing a series in Washington, after dinner, one evening he said, let’s take a little walk. So we went out to a park across from the hotel and sat down. “I’m going to quit,” he said. “I can’t stand this being manager, can’t stand being the manager of this ballclub.”
He said, “We’re not going to get anyplace. I’ve got a good pitching staff–and he did have a good pitching staff–”but you fellows are just batting your heads against the wall every time you go out there, no runs.” The owners wouldn’t get him any players, see, and he said, “I just can’t take it–I’m going to quit.”
He had already talked it over with the front office in New York and one of the reasons he took me out to the park was that he had told them which men he thought they should keep, and I happened to be one of three pitchers along with Slim Caldwell and Ray Fisher, and he said I know that you’ll be working in vaudeville next winter and I would advise you to get yourself a two- or three-year contract, if you can, before you leave New York on your tour, which was very good advice–which advice I didn’t take. I was too smart–you know how it is, very smart–so Mike Donlin and I went out on the Orpheum circuit that winter after opening at the Palace.
So Mike, before we left New York, he said, you better go over to the Yankee office and get yourself signed in before we leave for Chicago. He said, you never can tell what’s going to happen. I, being very, very smart, I said, “No, I’ll be worth more money to them in the spring than I am now after the publicity we will get in vaudeville this winter.”
But I was wrong, because during the winter, while we were in Minneapolis at the Orpheum theatre, Devery and Farrell sold the team to Ruppert and Huston. I’m quite sure I could have made a deal with Frank Farrell for a two- or three-year contract before leaving, but as I say I wasn’t very smart.
When we got back east Bill Donovan (that’s Bill, not Patsy) had been appointed manager of the Yankees, and he was not in favor of anybody having a long-term contract. I didn’t even last out the year with him.
It seemed every time I pitched against Washington I had Walter Johnson as an opponent, or Jim Shaw, either one. Griffith, he used to … I don’t know … I had an idea he didn’t pitch them against Caldwell. It seemed that every time Slim pitched, the team would get him three or four runs–though he didn’t need them, he was a great pitcher.
Was Johnson as great a pitcher as they say? Let me tell you, he was greater than they say. He was with one of the worst ballclubs imaginable, not quite as bad as the old Yankees but almost as bad.
When I got out of the Air Service, after the War–you see, I quit baseball on the 4th of July, I think, in 1917 and went into the Air Service–when I came out I went to work for the New York Evening Sun. I wrote articles, and the Sun used to run them every Saturday. The Wheeler Syndicate used to sell them to–wherever they could sell them, Boston, Philadelphia, Newark, anywhere they could, you know, and I used to get five, two, four, eight dollars apiece for them, and one of the stories that I wrote was about Walter Johnson.
I wrote one about Joey, too, and about Cicotte, and Mathewson, oh, so many of them. In the story about Johnson, I wondered what would have happened if he had been pitching for the Giants, who could get him five or six runs nearly every time he started, and I’m wondering if he’d ever lose a ballgame. I found out from Joe Vila, who was the sports editor for the Sun, that Matty didn’t care very much for that.
Matty was a very good friend of Mike’s , and so was McGraw, who was my sponsor into the Lambs Club. He was a Jekyll and Hyde character. Off the field he was very affable, but the minute he’d get in uniform, he was one of the toughest guys you’d ever want to know. Mike used to tell me a lot of inside information which of course helped me when I was writing these stories.
Do you know about the movie Speaker and I made? In 1917, just before I went into the Service, we produced a motion picture of the big stars in both major leagues. We had $80,000 worth of bookings for the picture, and then they declared baseball during the War not essential, so all the bookings were cancelled. We sold the rights to the YMCA to use it in the camps all over Europe, in the ships going over and back, and in the camps here.
After the War was over I showed the film to my friend Roxy, God rest him, and he took the thing over and showed it at the Rivoli and the Rialto and down to Fifth Avenue, and then I happened to come into Wall Street to work as a stockbroker–in 1920 I started my own firm, which I still run today–and I forgot all about the film.
It was put in the morgue some place up at the Rialto or the Rivoli, and the YMCA lost their prints somewhere over in France, but I had left in the tins some cuts and out-takes of the shots of–well, Speaker, Hooper, Ruth, Wood, Matty, and Johnson and all, and I still have them. I showed the clips only about two years ago at the Pathé projection room one day and they still look pretty good.
The game’s a lot different today from what it was when I played. The biggest change–and the worst one, in my opinion–is the home run. Now, let’s first talk of the fellow going up to the plate. Seventy-five percent of the time he goes up there with the thought of hitting the ball out of the ballpark, and it’s not too difficult to do, because they have moved the ballpark in on him. Now in right field and center field and left field, you’ve got stands. They used to have a bleacher, way out, in the old days, but the only home run you’d get would be if you hit it between the fielders. ”In grounds,” they’d call it, a home run in grounds: if a ball got in between those fielders and if you had any speed, they wouldn’t be able to throw you out. Today, if you hit a good long fly it’s in one of these short stands.
In the old days they juiced up the ball some, but when they talk about the dead ball–there never was any dead ball that I can remember. I’ve got a couple of scars on my chin to prove it. I saw Joe Jackson hit a ball over the top of the Polo Grounds in right field–over the top of it–off one of our pitchers, and I have never seen or heard of anyone hitting it over since, and that was around 1914-15, in there.
Today’s ball is livelier, no doubt of that. They are using an Australian wool now in winding the core ofthe ball. In the old days they used wool but not one that is as elastic as this wool. The bats are whippier, too. But the principal reason for all these homers is the concentration of the hitter on trying to hit the ball out of the park.
The fielding today? Well, any of these boys in the big leagues today could field in any league at any time. I think the better equipment has more to do with the spectacular play. You take this here third baseman up with the Yankees–Clete Boyer–he’s terrific, just terrific. Larry Gardner, who played third on the Boston team with me, he was a great third baseman, and he had that “trolleywire throw” to first, but Larry was not as agile as Boyer. I think Boyer is a little quicker. But, if you want a fellow to compare with Boyer, take Buck Weaver of that Black Sox team. He would field with Boyer any day, and throw with him, and he was a better hitter. He would be my all-time third baseman.
Players of my day, give them the good equipment, and they would be just as good or better. Now, you take a fellow like Wagner–I don’t mean the Wagner we had with the Red Sox, but the Pirates’ Wagner, Honus Wagner, who came to see us in Pittsburgh at the theatre, and he took up the whole dressing room with that big can of his. There was one of the most awkward-looking humans you ever saw, but he made the plays, without the shovel glove.
And Speaker–could a big glove have made him any better? As an outfielder, Speaker was in a class by himself: He would play so close to the infield that he’d get in on rundown plays! Then the next man perhaps would hit a long fly into center field and he would be on his bicycle with his back to the ball–not backing away, he’d turn and run–and you’d think he had a radar or a magnet or something because just at the proper time he’d turn hishead and catch the ball over his shoulder.
Those fellows, Speaker, Lewis, and Hooper, they used to practice throwing, something that you don’t see anymore. Those fellows would have a cap down near the catcher and they’d see who would come closest to the cap when they’d throw from the outfield. They all had marvelous arms. Nobody would run on them and I think that most of the people who ever saw them play would say there was no trio that could compare with them.
Mike and I, in our act, we used to do a number called, ”When You’re a Long, Long Way From Home.” In it I used to do a recitation, and the last two lines were, “When you’re on third base alone, you’re still a long, long way from home.” It was serious, about life being like a game of baseball. Times have changed–a boy can’t peek through a knothole in a concrete fence–but that’s still true.
As Joe Wayman noted in SABR’s Baseball Research Journal #24 (1995): “The New York Times lead headline for Alexander’s August 10, 1929, second game victory at Philadelphia was, ‘Alexander Wins 373rd Game, Sets Record.’ Ten days later, Grover Cleveland Alexander was sent home for ‘breaking training.’ He never won another big league game, though he lost three the following year for the Phillies. At the time, he–and everyone else–was secure in the knowledge that he was the all-time NL win leader.” However, in 1940 The Sporting News credited Christy Mathewson, who had been dead for 15 years, with an additional win in 1902, giving him 14 instead of the 13 for which he had previously been credited. This pulled Matty into a tie with Alexander the Great. All the same, Alexander always felt that his greatest game was none of his 373 wins, but what today would be termed a save. “Lazzeri swung where that curve started but not where it finished,” he said to Chicago Daily News reporter John Carmichael.
My greatest day in baseball has to have been the seventh game of the 1926 World Series between the Cards and Yankees. If I picked any other game, the fans would think I was crazy. I guess just about everyone knows the story of that game; it’s been told often enough. I came in as a relief pitcher in the seventh inning, with two out and the bases filled with Yankees, and I fanned Tony Lazzeri to protect the Cards’ 3-2 lead. And even if it wasn’t my greatest game, I’m stuck with it like George Washington with the hatchet.
There must be a hundred versions of what happened in Yankee Stadium that dark, chilly afternoon. It used to be that everywhere I went, I’d hear a new one, and some were pretty far- fetched. So much so that two, three years ago I ran across Lazzeri in San Francisco and said, “Tony, I’m getting tired of fanning you.” And Tony answered, “Maybe you think I’m not.” So I’d like to tell you my story of what took place in that game and the day before.
Some people say I celebrated the night before and had a hangover when manager Rogers Hornsby called me from the bullpen to pitch to Lazzeri. That isn’t the truth. On Saturday I’d beaten the Yankees 10-2 to make the Series all even. To refresh your memory on the Series, the Yankees won the opener and we took the next two. Then the Yanks won two straight and needed only one more for the world championship, and I beat ‘em in the sixth.
In the clubhouse after that game, Hornsby came over to me and said, ”Alex, if you want to celebrate tonight, I wouldn’t blame you. But go easy for I may need you tomorrow.”
I said, “Okay, Rog. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll ride back to the hotel with you and I’ll meet you tomorrow morning and ride out to the park with you.” Hell–I wanted to win that series and get the big end of the money as much as anyone.
Jesse Haines started the seventh game for us, pitching against Waite Hoyt. We figured Jesse would give the Yanks all they could handle. He was a knuckleballer and had shut ‘em out in the third game. Early in the game Hornsby said to me, “Alex, go down to the bullpen and keep your eye on [Willie] Sherdel and [Herman] Bell. Keep ‘em warmed up, and if I need help I’ll depend on you to tell me which one looks best.”
The bullpen in Yankee Stadium is under the bleachers, and when you’re down there you can’t tell what’s going on out on the field except for the yells of the fans overhead. When the bench wants to get in touch with the bullpen, there’s a telephone. It’s the only real fancy, modern bullpen in baseball. Well, I was sitting around down there, not doing much throwing, when the phone rang and an excited voice said, “Send in Alexander.”
I didn’t find out what had happened until the game was over. Turns out Haines was breezing along with a 3-2 lead when he developed a blister on the knuckle of the first finger of his right hand. The blister broke and the finger was so sore he couldn’t hold the ball. Before Rog knew it, the Yanks had the bases filled.
I took a few hurried throws and then started for the box. There’s been a lot of stories about how long it took me to walk from the bullpen to the mound–how I looked and all that. Well, as I said, I didn’t know what had happened when I was called.
So when I came out from under the bleachers I saw the bases were filled and Lazzeri was standing in the box. Tony was up there all alone, with everyone in that Sunday crowd watching him. So I just said to myself, “Take your time. Lazzeri isn’t feeling any too good up there. Let him stew.” But I don’t remember picking any four-leaf clovers, as some of the stories said.
I got to the box and Bob O’Farrell, our catcher, came out to meet me. ”Let’s start right where we left off yesterday,” Bob said. The day before [Saturday] Lazzeri had been up four times against me without getting anything that so much as looked like a hit. He’d gotten one off me in the second game of the Series, but with one out of seven I wasn’t much worried about him, although I knew that if he got all of a pitch he’d hit it a long piece.
I said okay to O’Farrell. We’ll curve him. My first pitch was a curve and Tony missed it. Holding the ball in his hand, O’Farrell came out to the box again. “Look, Alex,” he began. “This guy will be looking for that curve next time. We curved him all the time yesterday. Let’s give him a fast one.” I agreed and poured one in, right under his chin. There was a crack, and I knew the ball was hit hard. A pitcher can usually tell pretty well from the sound. I spun around to watch the ball, and all the Yankees on the bases were on their way. But the drive had a tail-end fade and landed foul by eight, ten feet in the left field bleachers.
So I said to myself, “No more of that for you, my lad.” Bob gave me the sign for another curve and I gave him one. Lazzeri swung where that curve started but not where it finished. The ball got a hunk of the corner and then finished outside. Well, we were out of that jam, but there still were two innings to go.
I set the Yanks down in order in the eighth and got the first two in the ninth. And then Ruth came up. The Babe had scored the Yanks’ first run of the game with a tremendous homer. He was dynamite to any pitcher. I didn’t take any chances on him but worked the count to three and two, pitching for the corners all the time. Then Babe walked and I wasn’t very sorry either when I saw him perched on first. Of course Bob Meusel was the next hitter. He’d hit over forty homers that season [actually Meisel attained his career high of 33 the previous season] and would mean trouble.
If Meusel got hold of one, it could mean two runs and the Series, so I forgot all about Ruth and got ready to work on Meusel. I’ll never know why the guy did it, but on my first pitch to Meusel, the Babe broke for second.He (or Miller Huggins) probably figured that it would catch us by surprise. I caught the blur of Ruth starting for second as I pitched, and then came the whistle of the ball as O’Farrell rifled it to second. I wheeled around, and there was one of the grandest sights of my life. Hornsby, his foot anchored on the bag and his gloved hand outstretched, was waiting for Ruth to come in. There was the Series and my second big thrill of the day. The third came when Judge Landis mailed out the winners’ checks for $5,584.51.
I guess I had every thrill that could come to a pitcher except one. I never pitched a no-hit game. I pitched sixteen one-hitters during my time in the National League and that’s coming pretty close, pretty often.
You know, you think of a lot of funny things that happened in baseball, sittin’ around gabbing like this. I remember when I was with the Cubs, and I was with them longer than any other club, we were playing the Reds in a morning game on Decoration Day. The game was in the eleventh when I went up to bat and I said, “If they give me a curveball, I’ll hit it in the bleachers. My wife’s got fried chicken at home for me.” They gave me a curve and I hit ‘er in the bleachers.
Did he or didn’t he? That is, point to center field in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series after taking two strikes, then wallop a home run to the deepest part of Wrigley Field. Thde called shot has been one of baseball’s great enduring mysteries, in part because the Babe loved a tall tale and wasn’t about to throw water on this one. Here is what he told Chicago Daily News reporter John Carmichael.
Nobody but a blankety-blank fool would-a done what I did that day. When I think of what a idiot I’d a been if I’d struck out and I could-a, too, just as well as not, because I was mad and I’d made up my mind to swing at the next pitch if I could reach it with a bat. Boy, when I think of the good breaks in my life … that was one of ‘em!
Aw, everybody knows that game—the day I hit the homer off ol’ Charlie Root there in Wrigley Field—October 1, the third game of the 1932 World Series. But right now I want to settle all arguments: I didn’t exactly point to any one spot, like the flagpole. Anyway, I didn’t mean to. I just sorta waved at the whole fence, but that was foolish enough. All I wanted to do was give that thing a ride … outta the park … anywhere.
I used to pop off a lot about hittin’ homers, but mostly among us Yankees. Earle Combs and Art Fletcher and Frank Crosetti and all of ’em used to holler at me when I’d pick up a bat in a close game: “Come on, Babe, hit one.” ‘Member Herb Pennock? He was a great pitcher, believe me. He told me once, “Babe, I get the biggest thrill of my life whenever I see you hit a home run. It’s just like watchin’ a circus act.” So I’d often kid ’em back and say, “Okay, you bums…I’ll hit one.” Sometimes I did; sometimes I didn’t…but what the heck, it was fun.
One day we were playin’ in Chicago against the White Sox, and Mark Roth, our secretary, was worryin’ about holdin’ the train because we were in extra innings. He was fidgetin’ around behind the dugout, lookin’ at his watch, and I saw him when I went up to hit in the fifteenth. “All right, quit worrying,” I told him. “I’ll get this over with right now.” Mike Cvengros was pitchin’ and I hit one outta the park. We made the train easy. It was fun.
I’d had a lot of trouble in ’32, and we weren’t any cinches to win that pennant, either, ’cause old Lefty Grove was tryin’ to keep the Athletics up there for their fourth straight flag, and sometime in June I pulled a muscle in my right leg chasin’ a fly ball. I was on the bench about three weeks, and when I started to play again, I had to wear a rubber bandage from my hip to my knee. You know, the ol’ Babe wasn’t getting any younger and Jimmie Foxx was ahead of me in homers. I was eleven behind him early in September and never did catch up. I wouldn’t get one good ball a series to swing at. I remember one whole week when I’ll bet I was walked four times in every game.
I always had three ambitions: I wanted to play twenty years in the big leagues. I wanted to play in ten World Series, and I wanted to hit 700 home runs. Well, 1932 was one away from my twentieth year and that series with the Cubs was number ten and I finally wound up with 729 home runs, countin’ 15 World Series games, so I can’t kick. But then along in September I had to quit the club and go home because my stomach was kickin’ up and the docs found out my appendix was inflamed and maybe I’d have to have it out. No, sir, I wouldn’t let ‘em…not till after the season anyway.
The World Series didn’t last long, but it was a honey. That Pat Malone and that Burleigh Grimes didn’t talk like any Sunday school guys, and their trainer … yeah, Andy Lotshaw … he got smart in the first game at New York, too. That’s what started me off. I popped up once in that one, and he was on their bench wavin’ a towel at me and hollerin’ “If I had you, I’d hitch you to a wagon, you pot-belly.” I didn’t mind no ballplayers yellin’ at me, but the trainer cuttin’ in … that made me sore. As long as they started in on me, we let ’em have it. We went after ‘em, and maybe we gave ’em more than they could take, they looked beat before they went off the field.
We didn’t have to do much the first game at home. Guy Bush walked everybody around the bases. I’ll betcha ten bases on balls scored for us. Anyway, we got into Chicago for the third game—that’s where those Cubs decided to really get on us. They were in front of their home folks, and I guess they’d thought they better act tough.
We were givin’ them [the Cubs] hell about how cheap they were to [former Yankee] Mark Koenig, only votin’ him a half-share in the Series and they were callin’ me big belly and balloon-head, but I think we had ’em madder by givin’ them that ol’ lump-in-the-throat sign … you know, the thumb and finger at the windpipe. That’s like callin’ a guy yellow. Then in the very first inning I got a hold of one with two on and parked it in the stands for a three-run lead and that shut ’em up pretty well. But they came back with some runs and we were tied 4-4 going into the fifth frame. You know another thing I think of in that game was the play [Billy] Jurges made on Joe Sewell in the fifth … just ahead of me. I was out there waitin’ to hit, so I could see it good, and he made a helluva pickup, way back on the grass, and “shot” Joe out by a halfstep. I didn’t know whether they were gonna get on me anymore or not when I got to the box, but I saw a lemon rolling out to the plate, and I looked over and there was Malone and Grimes with their thumbs in their ears wiggling their fingers at me.
I told Hartnett, “If that bum [Root] throws me in here, I’ll hit it over the fence again,” and I’ll say it for Gabby, he didn’t answer, but those other guys were standing up in the dugout, cocky because they’d got four runs back and everybody hollerin’. So I just changed my mind. I took two strikes and after each one I held up my finger and said, “That’s one” and “that’s two.” Ask Gabby … he could hear me. Then’s when I waved to the fence!
No, I didn’t point to any spot, but as long as I’d called the first two strikes on myself, I hadda go through with it. It was damned foolishness, sure, but I just felt like doing it, and I felt pretty sure Root would put one close enough for me to cut at, because I was showin’ him up. What the hell, he hadda take a chance as well as I did, or walk me.
Gosh, that was a great feelin’ … gettin’ a hold of that ball and I knew it was going someplace … yessir, you can feel it in your hands when you’ve laid wood on one. How that mob howled. Me? I just laughed … laughed to myself going around the bases and thinking, “You lucky bum … lucky, lucky,” and I looked at poor Charlie [Root] watchin’ me, and then I saw Art Fletcher [the Yankee coach] at third wavin’ his cap, and behind him I could see the Cubs, and I just stopped on third and laughed out loud and slapped my knees and yelled, “Squeeze-the-Eagle Club” so they’d know I was referrin’ to Koenig and for special to Malone I called him “meathead” and asked when he was gonna pitch.
Yeah, it was silly. I was a blankety-blank fool. But I got away with it and after Gehrig homered, behind me, their backs were broken. That was a day to talk about.
Cy Young was an Ohio farmboy who became the most famous pitcher in all baseball history. Born two years after the end of the Civil War, he began his major league career in 1890 and ended it in 1911. In that time he won 511 games, a mark that no pitcher has ever matched or may dream of matching. Amazingly, Young’s major-league career spanned four rival leagues: the Players’ League of 1890; the American Association of 1882-91; the American League, which he more than anyone enabled to survive after its founding in 1901; and the Federal League, in which he managed in 1913, when it was not yet a major-league rival. He pitched to men who had played in 1871 (Cap Anson) and would play until 1930 (Eddie Collins).
When Young first arrived in the major leagues, Hall of Famers John Clarkson, Tim Keefe, and Old Hoss Radbourn were still star pitchers. When he retired, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson were well into their careers. Amos Rusie and Kid Nichols were among Young’s contemporaries, yet Young was still pitching years after they retired.
Cy Young is one of a handful of Hall of Fame players whose name is known today by baseball fans of all ages and sophistication. His awe-inspiring, unbreakable record helps—no pitcher in the past eight decades has won more than Warren Spahn’s 363. So does the publicity surrounding his eponymous award. In 1956, one year after Young’s remarkably long and eventful life came to an end, Major League Baseball created an annual award to honor the best pitcher in the game, including both leagues (awards for each league did not kick in until 1967). What to call it? The Walter Johnson Award? The Christy Mathewson Award? No, there was really only one choice—the Cy Young Award.
Here’s Cy Young in his own words, as he related the tale of his greatest game to Francis J. Powers.
A pitcher’s got to be good and he’s got to be lucky to get a no-hit game.
But to get a perfect game—no run, no hit, no man reach first base—he’s got to have everything his way.
I certainly had my share of luck in the twenty-three years I pitched in the two big leagues because I threw three no-hitters and one of them was perfect. You look at the records and you’ll find that Larry Corcoran, who pitched for the Chicago Nationals “away back when,” was the only other big leaguer ever to get three no-hitters before me and none of his was perfect.
So it’s no job for me to pick out my greatest day in baseball. It was May 5, 1904, when I was pitching for the Boston Red Sox and beat the Philadelphia Athletics without a run, hit, or man reaching first. Of all the 906 games I pitched in the big leagues that one stands clearest in my mind.
The American League was pretty young then, just four seasons old, but it had a lot of good players and good teams. I was with St. Louis in the National when Ban Johnson organized the American League, and I was one of the many players who jumped to the new circuit.
Jimmy Collins, whom I regard as the greatest of all third basemen, was the first manager of the Boston team, and in 1903 we won the pennant and beat Pittsburgh in the first modern World Series.
Before I get into the details of my greatest day, I’d like to tell something about our Red Sox of those days. We had a great team. Besides Collins at third, we had Freddie Parent at short, Hobe Ferris at second, and Candy La Chance on first.
In the outfield were Buck Freeman, who was the Babe Ruth of that time, Patsy Dougherty, who later played with the White Sox, and Chick Stahl. Bill Dinneen was one of our other pitchers, and he’d licked the Pirates three games in the World Series the fall before.
Every great pitcher usually has a great catcher, like Mathewson had Roger Bresnahan and Miner Brown had Johnny Kling. Well, in my time I had two. First, there was Chief Zimmer, when I was with Cleveland in the National League, and then there was Lou Criger, who caught me at Boston and handled my perfect game.
As I said, my greatest game was against the Athletics, who were building up to win the 1905 pennant, and Rube Waddell was their pitcher. And I’d like to say that beating Rube anytime was a big job. I never saw many who were better pitchers.
I was real fast in those days, but what very few batters knew was that I had two curves. One of them sailed in there as hard as my fastball and broke in reverse. It was a narrow curve that broke away from the batter and went in just like a fastball. And the other was a wide break. I never said much about them until after I was through with the game.
There was a big crowd for those times out that day. Maybe 10,000, I guess, for Waddell always was a big attraction.
I don’t think I ever had more stuff and I fanned eight, getting Jasper Davis and Monte Cross, the Philly shortstop, twice. But the boys gave me some great support, and when I tell you about it, you’ll understand why I say a pitcher’s got to be awfully lucky to get a perfect game.
The closest the Athletics came to a hit was in the third, when Monte Cross hit a pop fly that was dropping just back of the infield between first and second. Buck Freeman came tearing in from right like a deer and barely caught the ball.
But Ollie Pickering, who played center field for Mr. Mack, gave me two bad scares. Once he hit a fly back of second that Chick Stahl caught around his knees after a long run from center. The other time Ollie hit a slow roller to short and Parent just got him by a step.
Patsy Dougherty helped me out in the seventh when he crashed into the left field fence to get Danny Hoffman’s long foul; and I recall that Criger almost went into the Boston bench to get a foul by Davis.
Most of the other batters were pretty easy, but all told there were ten flies hit, six to the outfield. The infielders had seven assists and I had two, and eighteen of the putouts were divided evenly between Criger and La Chance.
Well, sir, when I had two out in the ninth, and it was Waddell’s time to bat, some of the fans began to yell for Connie Mack to send up a pinch hitter. They wanted me to finish what looked like a perfect game against a stronger batter.
But Mr. Mack let Rube take his turn. Rube took a couple of strikes and then hit a fly that Stahl caught going away from the infield.
You can realize how perfect we all were that day when I tell you the game only took one hour and twenty-three minutes.
We got three runs off Waddell, and when the game was finished it looked like all the fans came down on the field and tried to shake my hand. One gray-haired fellow jumped the fence back of third and shoved a five-dollar bill into my hand.
The game was a sensation at the time. It was the first perfect game in twenty-four years, or since 1880, when both John M. Ward and Lee Richmond did the trick. It also was the second no-hitter ever pitched in the American League. Jimmy Callahan of the White Sox pitched the first against Detroit in 1902, but somehow a batter got to first base.
During my twenty-three years in the big leagues I pitched 516 games in the National League and won 289, and then I went into the American League and won 222 there. So all told I worked 906 games and won 511.
By the way, you might be interested to know that in my last big league game I was beaten 1-0 by a kid named Grover Cleveland Alexander. [Myth alert: This makes for a great last line, but in fact Young's last big-league game was a loss to Brooklyn on October 6, 1911. The 1-0 game against Alexander and the Phils took place a month earlier, on September 7. Young lost and won games in between, including a 1-0 shutout over Babe Adams and the Pirates.]
A couple of nights ago, the Washington Nationals lost a decisive Game 5 in the National League Division Series, in agonizing fashion. Opening a 6-0 lead in the game’s early innings, they carried a lead of 7-5 into the ninth inning. Any of five pitches with two outs and two strikes could have been the last one of the game. The last time a Washington team played a deciding game in a postseason series was the seventh game of the 1925 World Series. Walter Johnson coughed up an early 6-3 lead while allowing 15 hits, shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh made two of his seven errors in the Series, and Washington lost, 9-7–the same score by which they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. I could go on about that sad, mud-spackled ballgame but I thought today I’d give Nats fans a lift. Here’s Walter Johnson, as he related the tale of Washington’s only World Series championship, as told to John P. Carmichael. Asked what was his greatest game, Old Barney–the nickname referenced racecar speedster Barney Oldfield–replied thus.
This won’t be very original, I’m afraid, because there couldn’t be a bigger day for me than the one everybody already knows about … October 10, 1924, in the last game of my first World Series. It was Weiser, Idaho, and Detroit and Washington put together; I guess you’d call it a piece of every day for eighteen years, and it didn’t look like I’d ever see it come around. After all, I was thirty-six years old and that’s pretty far gone to be walking into the last game of a World Series…especially when you couldn’t blame people for remembering I’d lost two Series starts already that year.
You see, I didn’t have much besides a fastball in my life, and there comes a time when speed alone won’t stop a batter. If a boy hasn’t got real, natural speed, it isn’t worth his while to try and force a fastball, because a slow pitch and a curve can fool a hitter better than unnatural speed. Besides, the arm may suffer. A free, loose motion and control are the main assets for a pitcher. That’s all I ever had to amount to anything.
Why, when I started out at 18 years of age, I couldn’t even land a job on the Pacific Coast. I went to Weiser, Idaho, because it had a semipro team and the players worked in the mines. I won my first game 4-0 on two hits. I won the next 2-1 in fifteen innings and then fanned fifteen to make my string three straight.
Weiser people began calling me “Pardner” instead of “Sonny.” I still was at Weiser in 1907 and had won 13 and lost 2 when Cliff Blankenship, a Washington scout, arrived. He’d really come out to look at Clyde Milan; I was just a by-product of his trip.
Well, he never saw me pitch at all, but he knew my record and offered me a job. I wouldn’t take it until he’d promised me a return ticket to California in case I failed. I joined Washington at Detroit on August 2, 1907, despite the pleas of the Weiser folk, who offered to buy me a cigar stand and set me up in business if I’d stay there. But you know how you are at 18 … you want to see things.
I saw something my first start. I got beat 3-2 and Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford bunted me all over the infield. I fell all over myself … and the 1,000 people in the stands laughed themselves sick. I was so confused I even missed the bus back to the hotel … and was walking there in my uniform when some fans gave me a lift.
Seventeen years later I was in a Series, but I wasn’t happy about it. I’d been beaten in New York for the second time by the Giants, and I’ll admit that when I got on the train to Washington, where we were to play the seventh game, there were tears in my eyes. I was carrying my youngest boy on my shoulder and trying not to speak to people when Clark Griffith put a hand on my arm. “Don’t think about it anymore, Walter,” he told me. “You’re a great pitcher. We all know it. Now tonight when we get home don’t stand around the box office buying seats for friends or shaking hands with people who feel sorry for you. I’ve seen many a fastball shaken right out of a pitcher’s hand. Go home and get to bed early … we may need you tomorrow.”
I told him I would, but as far as needing me further … I didn’t think manager Bucky Harris would call on me again. But I got my family off the train and we went straight home.
You can imagine how red-hot Washington was the next day … the last game of its first World Series coming up. Thirty-five thousand people were crammed into our park. President Coolidge was there. I made myself as inconspicuous as possible on the bench, because I didn’t want any sympathy … and I didn’t even want Harris to think of me in a jam. Well, Bucky started Curley Ogden, but pretty soon George Mogridge was in there and then Firpo Marberry, our big relief ace.
We were all tied up in the ninth when I came in. I’ll always believe that Harris gambled on me because of sentiment, but he said no. He just told me, “You’re the best we got, Walter … we’ve got to win or lose with you.” So I walked out there and it seemed to me the smoke from the stands was so thick on the field that nobody could see me clearly anyway. I remember thinking, “I’ll need the breaks,” and if I didn’t actually pray, I sort of was thinking along those lines.
I was in trouble every inning. After getting Fred Lindstrom in the ninth, Frankie Frisch hit a fastball to right-center for three bases. We decided to pass Ross Young and then I struck out George Kelly and Irish Meusel grounded to third. In the tenth I walked Hack Wilson and then, after striking out Travis Jackson, I was lucky enough to grab a drive by the old catcher Hank Gowdy and turn it into a double play.
Heinie Groh batted for Hugh McQuillan, the Giant pitcher, in the eleventh and singled. Fred Lindstrom bunted him along. I fanned Frisch this time, on an outside pitch, and once more passed Young. Kelly struck out again.
They kept after me, though. Meusel singled in the twelfth, but I’d settled down to believe, by then, that maybe this was my day, and I got the next three hitters. I’d tried to win my own game in the tenth with a long ball to the wall, but Wilson pulled it down. So I was up again in the twelfth when it was getting pretty dark. Muddy Ruel had lifted a pop foul to Gowdy, who lost it, and on the next pitch Ruel hit past third for two bases.
The ball never touched Fred. It hit a pebble and arched over his head into safe territory. I could feel tears smarting in my eyes as Ruel came home with the winning run. I’d won. We’d won. I felt so happy that it didn’t seem real. They told me in the clubhouse, that President Coolidge kept watching me all the way into the clubhouse and I remember somebody yelling, “I bet Cal’d like to change places with you right now, Walter.”
A long time later Mrs. Johnson and I slipped away to a quiet little restaurant where I used to eat on Vermont Avenue, in Washington, and do you know that before we were through with our dinner 200 telegrams had been delivered there. I never thought so many people were pulling for me to win, because the Giants were pretty popular. When we packed up and went home to Kansas, we had three trunks full of letters from fans all over the world. Mrs. Johnson answered about seventy-five every day for me … and we still didn’t finish until after Christmas.
It gives me great pleasure today to give Our Game over to John Holway, my friend, colleague, and frequent collaborator over the past three decades. We co-wrote The Pitcher, worked together on Total Baseball‘s first edition, and promoted SABR in the years before its membership was not yet 2000. But John’s forays into baseball’s dimly understood past predates mine by eons. He has been researching baseball since 1944, and he is still at it. Looking at baseball beyond America’s major leagues, he wrote the first book in English on Japanese baseball, Japan Is Big League in Thrills, in 1954. Since then he has published many notable books on the Negro Leagues, most notably perhaps Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues (1975), a collection of interviews with the then virtually unknown Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard, Bill Foster, Willie Wells, and The Complete Book of the Negro Leagues (2000). Holway saw his first Negro League game–Satchel Paige’s Monarchs against Josh Gibson’s Grays–in Washington, DC in 1945. He has also wrritten frequently about Ted Williams, whom he saw strike two home runs in the 1946 All-Star Game. A former chairman of SABR’s Negro Leagues committee, Holway has received SABR’s Bob Davids Award and the Casey Award for Blackball Stars, voted the best baseball book of 1988. In 2011 he captured a Henry Chadwick Award, capping a great career in which he has viewed baseball’s past from the vantage point of the present. Here he continues to point to the future, in the person of Washington’s Bryce Harper.
John B. Holway
Bryce Harper has now hit 22 homers as a 19-year-old. That puts him #2, behind Tony Conigliaro.
Never heard of Tony-C? He was one of the great tragic men of American baseball. Almost a half century ago, 1964, he slugged 24 home runs in 100 fewer at bats than Bryce.
Fans today don’t know Tony. But us old geezers remember a fresh-faced young guy with a smile who was struck down much too soon.
A Massachusetts boy, Tony signed with the Red Sox when he was 17 and came up to the big time when he was 19. He conked 24 over the Monster in only 404 at bats–Harper has 530 at the moment. That would equal about 32 for an equivalent number of at bats. Conigliaro also batted .290. Harper is struggling to get over .270.
Let’s not even talk about how much more money Bryce is being paid. Tony made a little extra change singing in Boston nightclubs; his most popular hit was “Little Red Scooter,” which he performed on TV too.
Then in August Tony broke his arm and his toes, and that was all for him that year.
But he came roaring back in ’65 with his 32 shots to lead the league, the youngest man ever to do it. Will Harper equal that?
Tony-C added 28 in ’66, but the Sox finished ninth. The one bright spot was, the Yanks finished tenth.
Then came ’67. The “Impossible Dream.”
The Sox charged back from almost worst to first, with Yaz and Tony and pitcher Jim Lonborg leading. Tony was batting .287 with 20 homers Then on August 18 in Fenway, facing Jack Hamilton of the Angels, Tony was almost killed.
The Sox won the pennant in their very last game, and I raced up to Boston to see Game 7 against the Cards. It was the second of three Series the Sox would hobble into without a key star. In ’46 Ted Williams had played with a painfully swollen right elbow; he was really half a player. In ’75 sensational rookie Jim Rice would ride the bench. (Should I mention Bill Buckner in ’86?) All four Series ended in seven-game losses.
I remember clearly when the lineups were announced, and Tony, still on the DL, was called to take his place on the foul-line with the other guys. He lifted his cap and waved it with a happy grin. The only thing bigger than his grin was our ovation.
Tony sat out in ’68, as the Sox fell back to oblivion. But he won the Comeback of the Year award in ’69 with 36 homers and 116 RBIs, his most ever. He’s the guy who made them remove the seats in dead centerfield. (Ted had tried, but they didn’t do anything until Tony complained.)
That winter, Tony’s eyesight almost gone, Boston traded him to California. He hit four homers.
He was interviewing for a broadcaster’s job in Boston when he was hit by a heart attack, then a stroke, and fell into a coma, which lasted for eight years until his death.
So, Bryce, I wish you the best of luck in memory of a guy who didn’t have much.