Decade-by-Decade – 1910s: Scandal, Miracle and the Emergence of Greatness

Black Sox

Been a while since I did the 1900s stories but I’m back, later than I had anticipated with a few stories from the 1910s from the world of Major League Baseball. Only 5 events for you today, couple of short stories and a couple of relatively lengthy ones. If you know your baseball history, you can probably guess what the lengthiest one will be…

Fred Snodgrass and the 1912 World Series

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The 1912 World Series was tied 3-3 between the Red Sox and the Giants with the deciding game at Fenway Park.

The deciding game was 1-1 going into the 10th inning.

The Giants scored 1 in the top half of the 10th to take a 2-1 lead and the Giants superstar pitcher Christy Mathewson needed only 1 more scoreless frame and the Giants would win their 2nd World Series.

Clyde Engle led off the bottom of the 10th, pinch hitting for Red Sox pitcher Smoky Joe Wood and hit a lazy fly ball out to Fred Snodgrass in centre who somehow proceeded to drop the ball with Engle getting to 2nd.

Then on the next pitch Snodgrass made a sensational catch to keep Engle from scoring and kept the Giants in the lead but Engle did advance to 3rd on the play.

Mathewson, normally a wonderful control pitcher, walked Steve Yerkes putting the Championship winning run on base.

Then Tris Speaker hit a pop up in foul territory, Mathewson called for the catcher Meyers to catch it even though 1st baseman Merkle was nearer and Meyers couldn’t make the catch.

Speaker then proceeded to drive in Engle to tie the game, Yerkes advancing to 3rd.

Mathewson then walked Duffy Lewis intentionally to load the bases, 1 out to set up a forceout at every base, however Larry Gardner, the next hitter, flied out to Josh Devore in RF and it was just deep enough for Yerkes to tag up and score and win the World Series for the Red Sox.

In the aftermath of this event the Giants manager John McGraw felt so sorry for Snodgrass that he raised his salary $1000.

Much like Fred Merkle in 1908 this error of his stayed with Snodgrass until his death in 1974. So much so that when he died his obituary in the New York Times was headlined “Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly.”

George Herman Ruth makes his MLB debut

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This isn’t a story, but it is a significant event in MLB history as a young left handed pitcher named George Herman Ruth, better known as Babe Ruth, made his MLB debut for the Boston Red Sox on 11 July 1914. He would not remain a pitcher however of course…

The Miracle Braves

1914 saw one of the most remarkable turnarounds in MLB history.

The Boston Braves were 26-40 in early July, in last place, and then proceeded to go on a remarkable run of form which saw them go 70-19 in their last 89 games to finish on 94-59 and win the National League Pennant by 10 ½ games.

They went on to sweep the heavily favoured Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series 4-0.

Babe Ruth breaks the single season home run record

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In 1919 Babe Ruth (still with the Red Sox) broke the single season home run record by hitting 29 home runs, despite at this time still pitching part time.

By himself he hit more home runs than 10 of the 15 other teams in MLB.

The Black Sox Scandal

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Arguably the most controversial event in the history of the game.

This section is to do with the fixing of the 1919 World Series by the Chicago White Sox against the Cincinnati Reds.

Most believe the nickname, “The Black Sox” was because of the fix but there is a legend, that some believe that it was to do with the fact that the White Sox owner, Charles Comiskey, refused to pay for the players’ uniforms to be cleaned and ordered the players to pay for it themselves.

The players refused and the subsequent games saw the uniforms get progressively dirtier.

Comiskey was known to be cheap but I am not convinced by this theory.

There was tension in the White Sox clubhouse despite their winning culture.

Firstly, the players disliked Comiskey who was known for underpaying his players and the players had no union in those days.

Secondly, the clubhouse was divided between one bunch and the other bunch of the likes of pitchers Dickie Kerr and Red Faber, catcher Ray Schalk and second baseman Eddie Collins.

Both sides disliked each other and were rumoured never to speak to each other.

The White Sox won the 1917 World Series and were considered heavy favourites for the 1919 World Series despite the Reds winning 8 more games in the regular season.

When the Series approached, however, word started to slip out and the odds started to change after a large amount of money was placed on the Reds. Sportswriters in Chicago knew or suspected that something was amiss.

Several of the players attended a meeting at first baseman Chick Gandil’s hotel room on 21 September where the fix was discussed, including the team’s and possibly the league’s best player at that time, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson but his involvement is in dispute until this day.

A bit of trivia to break things up. Babe Ruth, who went on to do alright as a hitter, said he based his hitting technique on Jackson.

The fix involved gambler Joseph Sullivan and was rumoured to have involved gangster Arnold Rothstein, although the latter’s involvement has never been completely proved.

One of the team’s best pitchers Red Faber (who would not have been involved in the fix) came down with the flu prior to the Series and took no part in it.

Catcher Schalk said years later that if Faber had been available, the fix would have likely never happened, since Faber would have almost certainly gotten starts that went to other pitchers Eddie Cicotte and/or “Lefty” Williams.

Game 1

Eddie Cicotte was to pitch the first game for the White Sox. Cicotte, unlike his co-conspirators, asked for his money before the game.

He received his $10,000 under his hotel pillow the night before game 1 and his instructions were to hit the first batter of the series to signal that the fix was on which he did and that batter went on to score.

No-one suspected anything was amiss until the 4th when the score was 1-1 when Cicotte allowed a number of successive hits including a 2 out triple to the opposing pitcher, at which point he was taken out of the ballgame.

The Reds went on to win 9-1.

Game 2

The players (Cicotte aside) had still not received their money but were still willing to go through with the fix.

“Lefty” Williams started game 2 and he was not as obvious as Cicotte.

It was in the 4th that he walked 3 and conceded as many runs. He was back to being fine after that but the White Sox still lost 4-2.

Game 3

This game was pitched by Dickie Kerr who was not in on the fix as the conspirators disliked him.

He pitched a complete game shutout allowing just 3 hits and the White Sox won 3-0 with curiously 2 of the runs driven in by the chief conspirator Chick Gandil, however Gandil did commit a baserunning gaff as well.

The series now stood at 2-1 to the Reds.

Game 4

Cicotte got the ball again for game 4 but was not be as bad as his first start.

He and his opponent Jimmy Ring threw 4 scoreless frames each before Cicotte firstly threw wildly off a slow roller for a 2 base error and then the next batter singled into the outfield, Jackson got the ball and threw to the plate but Cicotte cut off the throw and fumbled it.

Later in the inning he allowed an RBI double and those were the only runs of the game as the Reds won 2-0 and took a 3-1 series lead.

Joseph Sullivan after the game reportedly came through with $20,000 which Gandil shared amongst Swede Risberg, Oscar Felsch and “Lefty” Williams.

Game 5

Williams pitched this game and was much better, not allowing a runner passed 1st until the 6th.

The opposing pitcher Hod Eller hit a blooper into the outfield, Felsch’s throw was offline allowing Eller to get to 3rd. A walk and a double followed as well as more questionable fielding by Felsch.

The Reds won 5-0 and took a 4-1 series lead, needing just 1 more win for the Championship.

The players were getting pissed off at not receiving all the money that they had been promised so they decided to start trying their best.

Game 6

Kerr pitched his 2nd game but was not as effective as his first start and was not helped by errors as the Reds went into a 4-0 lead after 4.

The White Sox battled back however to win 5-4 in 10 innings. The series was 4-2 in Reds favour.

Game 7

The Eddie Cicotte that had won 29 games in the regular season turned up in game 7 as they won 4-1, reducing the series deficit to 4-3.

This much improved White Sox had not gone unnoticed and Sullivan reportedly sent one of his associates, Harry F, who told next game’s starter “Lefty” Williams that if he did not throw the game the next day he and his wife would be in danger.

Game 8

Williams threw the game immediately, throwing mediocre pitches in the 1st, giving up 3 runs before being taken out.

The Reds eventually won 10-5 and the World Series 5-3.

However, it did not end there. There was a Commissioner now in charge of Baseball for the first time, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and he ended up banning 8 players from ever playing MLB ever again. Those players were:

Chick Gandil
Oscar Felsch
Swede Risberg
Fred McMullin
Eddie Cicotte
“Lefty” Williams
Buck Weaver – Not involved in the fix but banned for knowing and not reporting it.
Shoeless Joe Jackson

Jackson’s involvement in the scheme has been debated over the decades and will continue to be. It was said by the conspirators that Jackson was not in on any of the meetings but Williams did give Jackson $5000 so who knows what’s true. Jackson actually hit .375 in the series and did not commit an error. Some point to the fact that a lot of his hits came when the games were either over as a contest or in the games when the conspirators were reportedly trying harder due to not getting paid.

That’s that for my look at my favourite events in MLB for the 1910s.

About Thomas Frost 6 Articles
Long suffering ranting Mets fan. Sports history buff, cover sports minute by minute on Twitter, main guest on a regular baseball podcast, occasional blogger about sports and David Wright hero worshipper.