Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Game 7: Exciting World Series Finales (1924)

October 10, 1924
Griffith Stadium, Washington D.C.
Washington Senators vs. New York Giants

The Giants were making their fourth straight World Series appearance while the Senators had never made it to the postseason. The Giants roster featured seven Hall of Famers, among them second baseman Frankie Frisch, first baseman Bill Terry and outfielder Hack Wilson, who would later set a single-season record for RBIs while playing for the Cubs. The Senators had rebounded from a sub-.500 record in 1923 to capture the pennant by a slender margin over the Yankees. Thirty-six year old right-hander Walter Johnson--nearing the end of his career--was the heart and soul of the Washington squad, capturing a pitching triple crown while being named AL MVP. He was not the only superstar in D.C. that year as the Senators outfield was patrolled by future Cooperstown inductees Sam Rice and Goose Goslin.

The Series was marred by controversy when Phillies shortstop Heinie Sand reported that Giants outfielder Jimmy O'Connell had offered him a bribe to throw a September 27 game between the two clubs. O'Connell admitted his indiscretion and fingered New York coach Cozy Dolan along with three other players. Both Dolan and O'Connell were run out of baseball.

Another scandal broke when rumors surfaced that thirty percent of the '24 World Series tickets had fallen into the hands of scalpers, who were charging outrageous prices. The Series was not expected to go seven games and, when Washington evened the affair at three games apiece on October 9, the Senators had not even printed tickets yet for the following day's contest. Fans camped outside Griffith Stadium all night and there was mass confusion when the box office opened.

Those who were lucky enough to gain admission witnessed a marathon twelve inning encounter that ended on a bizarre note. President Calvin Coolidge and his wife were on hand. The Senators scored first in the bottom of the fourth on a homer by player/manager Bucky Harris. In the top of the sixth, the Giants took advantage of some sloppy infield play by the Senators. Consecutive errors by first baseman Joe Judge (one of the most gifted defensive players in baseball) and third baseman Ossie Bluege led to a 3-run New York outburst. The Senators answered with a pair of runs in the eighth and the score remained knotted at three into the twelfth inning.

With one out in the bottom of the twelfth, Senators catcher Muddy Ruel hit a pop-up near home plate. The sure-handed Hank Gowdy settled under it, but dropped the ball after stepping on his own discarded catcher's mask. Given a second chance, Ruel drilled a double to left field. The comedy of errors continued for the Giants when Walter Johnson, summoned in relief on short rest, reached on a bobble by Hall of Fame shortstop Travis Jackson. Earl McNeely then hit a potential double play ball to Fred Lindstrom at third. The ball hit a pebble and took a weird hop over Lindstrom's head, scoring the winning run and giving the Senators their first championship.

The Giants had been heavily favored to win and most sportswriters were stunned. "This is non-fiction," an incredulous Shirley Povich wrote. "It happened in 1924. I was there." The error would haunt Lindstrom for the rest of his career, though he would eventually be enshrined at Cooperstown. Many years after the fact, he insisted that if that ball hadn't bounced over his head, most people would have forgotten him. "You know the old saying, 'That's the way the ball bounces'?" He joked. "Well, it was never more appropriate than in the seventh game of the 1924 World Series." 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Game 7: Exciting World Series Finales (1912)

October 16, 1912
Red Sox vs. Giants
Fenway Park, Boston

The location of this game was determined by a coin flip. It was a makeup for Game 2, which had been declared a 6-6 tie on account of darkness after the eleventh inning. Having committed five errors in that game, the New Yorkers were fortunate to salvage a tie.

The 1912 Giants were managed by the pugnacious John McGraw, who would spend more than thirty years at the helm in New York, guiding the club to ten pennants and three World Series titles. The Gotham pitching staff was anchored by Hall of Famers Rube Marquard and Christy Mathewson. With 373 career victories, Mathewson is considered by many to be the greatest pitcher of his time. Marquard, a left-hander, led the NL with 26 wins in 1912 as the Giants finished ten games ahead of the second place Pirates.

The Red Sox carried one of the most talented outfield tandems in history with Hall of Famers Tris Speaker (CF) and Harry Hooper (RF) patrolling the outer perimeter. Left fielder Duffy Lewis was no slouch either, leading the club with 109 RBIs during the 1912 slate. Before the "Green Monster" was erected at Fenway Park, there was a steep ten foot embankment in front of the left field wall. Lewis became so adept at playing the caroms, the hazard came to be known at "Duffy's Cliff." The Boston pitching staff was dominated by twenty-two year-old flamethrower Smoky Joe Wood. He led the American League in wins (34) and shutouts (10). Boston cruised to a pennant, placing fourteen games ahead of the runner-up Senators.

The Red Sox held a 3-to-1 advantage before McGraw's Giants scratched out a 5-3 win in New York. When the Series moved back to Boston, Wood (who had prevailed in his first two starts) suddenly lost his effectiveness, coughing up 6 runs on 7 hits before being getting the hook after just one inning. The Giants evened the Series with an 11-4 romp that day.

Before the final contest, rumors circulated that two Boston players had been caught scalping their tickets to undercover police. Another story surfaced about an altercation between Joe Wood and staff mate Buck O'Brien. It was reported that catcher Bill Carrigan also took a swing at Wood before the fight was broken up by manager Jake Stahl. Stahl later denied that the incident had taken place and Wood bore no bruises to prove it.
Boston's Hugh Bedient (a twenty-game winner during the regular season) took the mound against Mathewson. Both hurlers pitched brilliantly. With the score knotted at one apiece after seven innings, Stahl called upon Joe Wood to close out the game for the Red Sox. In the end, it was the Giants defense that would determine the outcome of the Series. In the top of the tenth, a one-out double by Giants left fielder Red Murray was followed by a clutch single off the bat of first baseman Fred Merkle. Wood retired the next two batters, but the Sox were in a 2-1 hole heading into the bottom of the frame.With Mathewson still on the mound for New York, Boston's Clyde Engle ended up at second base on an error by Giants center fielder Fred Snodgrass. Snodgrass's mother, who was following the game on a telegraph scoreboard in a California theater, allegedly feinted when she got word of the play. Engle advanced to third on a sac-fly by Harry Hooper. Instead of having two outs and nobody on, Mathewson now had a runner at third with one-out. One of the strangest plays in World Series history followed.

Mathewson walked second baseman Steve Yerkes, bringing the ultra-dangerous Tris Speaker to the plate. Speaker hit a playable pop-up between first base and home plate. Mathewson called for catcher Chief Meyers to make the catch even though Fred Merkle was closer. Meyers, not the swiftest backstop in the league, couldn't get to the ball in time. It dropped untouched in foul territory. Speaker allegedly yelled: "Well, you just called for the wrong man and it's gonna cost you the ballgame!" Speaker singled home Clyde Engle to tie the game. Mathewson then walked the dangerous Duffy Lewis. Larry Gardener followed with a game-ending sac-fly as the Boston prevailed, 3-2. Only 17,034 fans were on hand (on a Wednesday night) to see the Red Sox clinch the Series in their brand new ballpark.

A headline in the New York Sun absolved Mathewson of any culpability: "Not Matty's Fault: Pitches Throughout With Superb Courage and Judgement." National League President Thomas Lynch echoed that sentiment, telling reporters: "If not for Snodgrass's muff, the Giants would have won the title. It was hard lines for Christy Mathewson, who pitched superbly." Sadly, Fred Snodgrass was never able to disassociate himself from the Giants heartbreaking loss in the 1912 finale. In a 1940 interview, he said: "Hardly a day in my life, hardly an hour goes by, that in some manner or other the dropping of that fly doesn't come up, even after thirty years." The error was even mentioned in the headline of his 1974 New York Times obituary.


Monday, July 14, 2014

The Bridgeport Hammer: A Parallel Baseball Universe

Readers who pick up a copy of my World War II baseball novel, The Bridgeport Hammer, will notice something radically different about the National League. I have fielded numerous questions about this already. Surprisingly, no one has inquired about the Nazi spies roaming the U.S. or the assassination plot against President Roosevelt. (Apparently, I sold that pretty well.) Instead, readers want to know why I changed the names of the players and teams.

The answer is simple: I felt that alternate history should take place in a slightly altered reality.

The book is not really a departure from the facts at all. I have taken great pains to preserve the conventions, strategies and culture of the game during the war era. But I did give the National League a bit of a facelift. Avid fans of the sport will have no difficulty tracing the origins of the team names. For baseball neophytes, here is a complete rundown of my revised NL lineup:            

Philadelphia Mustangs: The Philadelphia Phillies started out as the Quakers in 1883. The team name was quickly changed to the Philadelphias then gradually shortened to its current form. They are the oldest one-name, one-city franchise in the majors. A “Filly” is also a female horse, so I came up with the name “Mustangs” to make them sound more masculine.

Boston Wranglers: The Atlanta Braves were originally based in Boston. They played as the Red Stockings and the Beaneaters between 1876 and 1906. After that, they went through a rapid series of ownership changes. In 1907, they altered their name to the Doves. In 1911, they became known as the Rustlers. That’s where I got the “Wranglers” handle from.

Brooklyn Superbas: Back in the day, the borough of Brooklyn was inundated with an elaborate network of trolley routes. People who lived there were jokingly referred to as “trolley dodgers.” The current team handle originated from the antiquated slang. Long before they became permanently known as the Dodgers, they played as the Atlantics, Grays, Bridegrooms, Robins and Superbas. They carried the “Superbas” handle from 1899 through 1910.

Chicago Orphans: Cap Anson was one of the greatest players of the nineteenth century. The first player to collect 3,000 hits, he led Chicago (then known as the Colts) to six National League pennants between 1876 and 1886. He was released in 1897 when the club compiled a 59-73 record and finished in ninth place. After Anson’s retirement, sportswriters began referring to the Colts as the “Orphans.” They were known as such from 1898-1902.       

St. Louis Perfectos: When streetcar moguls Frank and Stanley Robison, owners of the Cleveland Spiders, purchased the lowly St. Louis Browns after the 1898 campaign, they came up with a hare-brained scheme to strip the Spiders of their best players and ship them off to St. Louis. As a result, the 1899 Spiders compiled the worst record in major league history at 20-134. The St. Louis squad—renamed the “Perfectos,”—fared much better with an 84-67 mark. The Spiders were ousted from the league after that ill-fated season and the “Perfectos” became known as the Cardinals thereafter.   

Cincinnati Redlegs: The Reds carried this nickname from 1954-1959. Many sources agree that the name change was an effort to disassociate the team from any ties to communism. After all, it was the era of the infamous "Red Scare."

New York Titans: This one’s a no-brainer. Titan is a synonym for Giant.

Pittsburgh Bandits: Pirates…Buccaneers…Bandits—different names for the same brand of outlaw.  

In regard to the players in my novel, the names have been changed, but most are based on real people. Some are composites of multiple personalities. For instance, the novel’s chief protagonist, Emmett Drexler, is an amalgam of two war era players—Moe Berg and Rip Sewell.

---Berg spent fifteen years in the majors as a catcher for several clubs. Selected for an all-star squad that toured Japan in 1934, he took films of the Tokyo landscape that would later be used by the U.S. government to plan bombing raids during WWII. Known for his remarkable intelligence, Berg was fluent in several languages. Teammate Elden Auker referred to him as “the most fascinating” and “mysterious” man he had ever known. Upon retiring as a player in 1939, Berg became a member of the Office of Strategic Services—precursor to the CIA.

---Rip Sewell, a right-handed pitcher who spent most of his career with the Pirates, was the cousin of Hall of Fame infielder Joe Sewell. After sustaining a serious injury to his right foot in a hunting accident, he was forced to alter his mechanics on the mound. He began experimenting with a quirky blooper pitch that traveled in a high arc (roughly twenty feet or so) on its way to the plate. The novelty offering was nicknamed the “eephus” by teammate Maurice Van Robays. Supposedly, “eephus” is a variation of the Hebrew word for “nothing.” Sewell’s super-blooper quickly made him one of the hottest gate attractions of the war years. He won 59 games between 1942 and 1944 while appearing on two all-star teams.

Baseball-minded readers will undoubtedly recognize other iconic heroes in disguise, but I don’t want to give away too much. It’s all part of the fun. Unlike some works of fiction, similarities between my characters and actual people living or dead are purely intentional.   

Monday, July 7, 2014

Mudville Madness: Tales From Baseball's Rowdiest Era

Ty Cobb, who played a majority of his career in the Deadball Era, once remarked that “baseball is a red-blooded sport for red-blooded men. It’s no pink tea and the mollycoddles had better stay out.” During the early part of the twentieth century, that statement was largely accurate. To begin with, protective equipment was in its infancy. Players wore no helmets or batting gloves at the plate. The first catchers to don face masks and shin guards were ridiculed for the practice. There was no such thing as sports medicine and players often appeared in the lineup with nagging injuries.
As far as pitching was concerned, there were no officially designated relievers and hurlers were expected to finish what they started. In 1909, Dolly Gray of the Senators walked eight men in one inning and stayed in the game. Most pitchers despised being taken out early. It was a matter of pride in those days. Pitching strategies were far different. Brush-backs and bean balls were often ordered by managers as a retaliatory gesture or to keep a batter from getting too comfortable at the plate.
Rough play abounded in the early part of the twentieth century. Ty Cobb allegedly sharpened his spikes before every game (though he denied doing it). Players fought on a regular basis and umpires were not above throwing fists around. Even fans were abusive. Many of them brought rotten fruit and vegetables with them to the ballpark to pepper players with. My book, Mudville Madness, captures the spirit of this violent period. 

Here is a small sampling:

Aug. 17, 1900: Reds’ hurler Bill Phillips strolls to the plate and punches Phillies’ outfielder Roy Thomas in the face for fouling off too many pitches. The altercation takes place on “Ladies Day” in Cincinnati.   

Aug. 21, 1901: In retaliation for a perceived blown call, White Sox catcher Joe Sugden deliberately allows a pitch to sail past his glove and hit umpire John Haskell. When Haskell allows the runner on third to advance, he is assaulted by Chicago’s shortstop Frank Shugart. Senators’ players rush to the umpire’s aid and a full scale brawl erupts as fans swarm the field.

Aug. 9, 1905: Umpire Bill Klem ejects every player on the Pirates’ bench—including the team mascot—for mocking him. After the Bucs lose, Klem is forced to hide in the Ladies’ Room to avoid an angry group of gamblers who put their money on Pittsburgh.

Apr. 11, 1907: Twenty thousand fans at the Polo Grounds in New York grow tired of watching the Giants lose. In the seventh inning, many spectators begin to leave the stadium, cutting right across the field with the game in progress. Umpire Bill Klem attempts to maintain order, but fans revolt, throwing cushions and debris onto the field. With snow having blanketed the city the day before, a massive snowball fight breaks out.

Aug. 3, 1909: When A’s second baseman Eddie Collins disputes a call and becomes verbally abusive, umpire Tim Hurst spits directly in his face. Hurst is fired for his actions.

May 12, 1912: Ty Cobb climbs twelve rows into the stands and beats up a physically disabled heckler named Claude Leuker. Cobb is suspended indefinitely, but reinstated after Detroit players go on strike.

July 30, 1914: Washington’s Ray Morgan throws dirt on umpire John Sheridan, who responds by punching Morgan in the face. In the ensuing melee, half a dozen players end up in the stands fighting with fans. Senators’ catcher John Henry is injured when he is hit in the back with a chair.

May 30, 1916: After a controversial ruling, fans at the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia shower umpire Pete Harrison with pop bottles. Harrison stands like a statue with his arms folded as the bottles land all around him. One of them reportedly grazes his leg. He will later need the assistance of police armed with night sticks to clear a path for him out of the stadium.

June 23, 1917: Babe Ruth argues with four straight calls from umpire Brick Owens at the beginning of a game at Fenway Park. After Owens issues a walk to Senators’ lead-off man Ray Morgan, Ruth punches Owens. He is ejected from the game and Ernie Shore takes over. Morgan is thrown out trying to steal second and Shore retires each of the twenty-six batters he faces for an unofficial perfect game.
There is plenty more where this came from with incidents being presented in far greater detail. Mudville Madness spans three centuries of baseball oddities from the dim and distant past to the present day. While conducting my research, I was literally astounded that some of these events had taken place. If you’re looking for something beyond the standard boxscores and stats, this is the book for you. If it’s baseball fiction you prefer, pick up a copy of my first novel, The Bridgeport Hammer, which was recently released through indie-publisher Black Rose Writing.