Friday, October 16, 2015

Underdog Stories: The 1914 Braves

Long before the "Miracle Mets" of 1969, there were the "Miracle Braves" of 1914. Hailing from Boston in those days, the Braves had few notable stars on their roster aside from second baseman Johnny Evers and shortstop Rabbit Maranville, who would both be enshrined at Cooperstown on the strength of their defensive skills. Having finished in fifth place or lower for eleven straight seasons, the Braves weren't expected to seriously contend for the pennant in 1914 and no one was terribly surprised when they sank to last place by April 25. Owing much to an innovative platoon system implemented by manager George Stallings, Boston compiled an incredible 61-16 record in the second half, climbing into first place for good on September 5.

On an interesting side note, Stallings was among the most peculiar men ever to occupy a dugout. Described by a Chicago Tribune writer as "a pitiless and abusive critic," the volatile Boston skipper frequently subjected his men to profanity-laden tirades while games were in progress. In the clubhouse, he was a completely different person, offering encouraging words and joking around with players. His superstitious behaviors became legendary. If something positive happened on the field, he would remain frozen in place for long periods of time, believing that the practice would prolong his team's good fortune. He had an almost pathological distaste for scraps of paper, peanut shells and other assorted bits of garbage, which made him extremely anxious. 

While the Braves completed an improbable pennant run, the A's captured their fourth AL title in a five year span. Third baseman Frank Baker led the league in homers for the fourth straight season while second baseman Eddie Collins hit .344 and stole 58 bags. Chief Bender, Eddie Plank and Herb Pennock--the A's Hall of Fame pitching arsenal--combined for a 43-14 record and 2.63 ERA. Entering the Series as heavy underdogs, the Braves remained supremely confident. Johnny Evers boasted that the A's were about to receive one of the biggest surprises of their lives while Stallings maintained that his team would "knock [Connie] Mack's head off." 

Both statements proved prophetic as the Braves executed one of the most astonishing sweeps in Series history. Game 3 was a 12-inning nail-biter that ended with an unfortunate throwing error by right-hander Bullet Joe Bush, who had pitched relatively well to that point. The stirring 5-4 Braves victory was followed by a series-clinching 3-1 win the following afternoon at Boston. Though the Braves had played their regular season games at the Southside Grounds, Fenway Park had a larger seating capacity and the postseason games were held there. 

The Braves followed their unlikely championship effort with a second place showing. The following year, they slid back into the second division, where they would remain for three decades. Between 1917 and 1946, the club finished in seventh place eleven times and last place on four occasions.              

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