Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine
Baseball deceives us, constantly, and in countless ways. This is its essential nature.

There is, of course, the eternal, teasing illusion that we can actually understand this game, that we can know the correct decisions to make and anticipate how events will unfold.

But the more fundamental illusion happens right in front of our eyes. The game deceives us because it refers always to our own experience. The deeds that we see performed by major leaguers are things we have done ourselves. Who among us is able to leap high enough in the air to be able to slam a basketball through the hoop, or able to heave a football forty yards into the arms of a moving target. But all of us have followed a baseball as it left the bat, tracked its flight, and been there to catch it when it fell to earth. We have all taken a quick step, scooped a ground ball, and thrown it across the diamond to first base. We think we understand these skills; we even presume to believe that we possess them ourselves, at least in some small part.

This is part of the lure of baseball. It is, by far, the deepest illusion of all. The difference between you and I, and the world's best ball players, is a difference of both kind and degree. It's not simply that a great baseball player can run faster and throw with greater speed and accuracy. He certainly can, but few of us have any real illusions about that. We know how the difficult plays separate us from the professional.

The more subtle difference has to do with the routine plays. You and I may be able to field the hard ground ball hit to us, catch it cleanly, and throw quickly and accurately to first - but how often? Six times out of ten? Seven? Eight or nine? A professional does it every time - we need figures with three decimal points to record variations in individual rates of success, and we include all the difficult plays as well.

The game deceives us, and we would do well to always remember this. But the game does not betray us. How could it? It is only a game.

What, in the end, do we want from a game? What do we expect? We expect very little. We expect only that you will summon your best skills and your best efforts, and apply them within the context of these silly and random rules that tell you what you're supposed to do and where you're supposed to go. Games are played to win, and this means that there must always be those who lose. But so long as everyone does their best, the game is its own reward. It's not a matter of war or peace, of life or death. Everybody does their best, everyone plays the game as it was meant to be played, and nobody dies.

This year will always be remembered as the year that baseball broke its faith with those who love it. This year, baseball betrayed us. Try as we might to fix our attention on the wonderful feats performed on the diamond this year, we will always return to the same two terrible truths.

Eight ballplayers in Chicago are accused of selling out the World Series. Ray Chapman is dead.

In the shadow of these dreadful events, it seems impossible that the game can continue as if nothing happened. Changes are required - what they will be, what difference they will make, no one can yet say. But the game will be different. Or else, in some way, it will die as well.

Even beyond the scandal of Chicago, and the tragedy at the Polo Grounds, there was other depressing news. A heart attack claimed Bill Hallman, who played 14 seasons, much of it at second base for the Phillies in the 90s. Matty McIntyre, part of the outfield for the Detroit champions of 1907-09, succumbed to influenza and Bright’s Disease in April, two months shy of his 40th birthday. The year ended with the death from tuberculosis, at age 44, of George Browne, the right-fielder from the 1905 champion New York Giants. That World Series is remembered for the three complete game shutout victories tossed by Christy Mathewson, and Matty himself was struck down by tuberculosis this year. He has been forced to leave his post as the Giants’ pitching coach and is now in a sanitarium in Saranac NY, trying to regain his health.

The Reformation

We may one day conclude that the most significant change to the game took place before this past season even got underway. Over the past decade, a wide assortment of trick pitches have emerged which depend on the pitcher defacing the ball in some fashion. Canada has never produced a star pitcher, and nothing in Russ Ford’s minor league career suggested that the right-hander from Brandon Manitoba would be the first. But Ford discovered, quite by accident, that a scuffed baseball could be made to break sharply. Ford began deliberately scratching balls with a piece of emery paper. By 1910 he was the toast of New York. He became just the second pitcher ever to win 20 of his first 30 major league appearances, and finished the 1910 campaign with a 26-6, 1.65 mark, striking out 209 hitters. He won another 22 games the following year, before arm injuries began to sap his effectiveness.

Ford attempted to keep his trick pitch a secret – he claimed to be throwing a spitball – but word got out eventually. The emery ball was banned from the game in 1915, but the principle behind it had been established. The first order of business for pitchers everywhere was now to deface the baseball. While there had always been some pitching stars who depended on the spitball, or some other kind of trick pitch – Ed Walsh and Jack Chesbro, for example – they had always seemed the exception. This is no longer true – in fact, over the last 10 years, it sometimes seems that the men who do something to the ball outnumber the men who simply throw it. A multitude of pitchers, who had done little to distinguish themselves before, suddenly emerged as stars: Eddie Cicotte of the White Sox is only the most prominent. All that is now going to change.

There have long been two arguments against the spitter - that it gives the pitchers an unfair advantage and that it is... disgusting, as John McGraw once said. Medical professionals have expressed dismay at the unsanitary nature of it all, concerns that probably rang louder these last few years, in the wake of the great flu pandemic. Of course, the Lords of Baseball were probably much more interested in trying to inject additional offense into the game. As far back as 1907, Fielder Jones had suggested that banning the spitball would increase offense, and that in turn would increase attendance. It is likely true that the paying customer really does prefer to see a little hitting in exchange for his nickel. It is certainly true that attendance has yet to return to the peaks established back in 1909.

So 1920 began with the introduction of a new rule that specifically "bans all foreign substances or other alterations to the ball by pitchers, including saliva, resin, talcum powder, paraffin, and the shine and emery ball.” A 10 day suspension would apply to pitchers caught cheating. The AL allowed each club to name two pitchers who would be allowed to throw the spitball this coming season, while NL teams were allowed to name all of their spitball pitchers. This was originally going to be a one year exemption, but the rule was modified after the season to allow the 17 pitchers who had been permitted to use the spitball in 1920 to continue using it as long as they remained in the league.

How much difference did it make? Some, perhaps. Offense did increase, in both leagues – in the National League, runs scored per game rose from 3.65 to 3.97; the impact was larger in the AL, where runs scored increased from 4.09 to 4.76 per game. This, however, was nothing like the offensive explosion seen when cork-centred baseballs were introduced by the American League in 1911. On that occasion, offense increased by almost a full run a game, from 3.64 to 4.61. That year’s changes had an impact on every pitch thrown – the new definition of legal and illegal pitches could not hope to have as large an impact. Babe Ruth alone probably accounts for a significant chunk of the increased offense in the AL this past year. Ruth also must take much of the credit for the more than one million fans who came to the Polo Grounds this summer to watch the Yankees play. No team has ever drawn a million fans to their games. So maybe Fielder Jones was right.

Not every team took advantage of their one chance to license a pitcher to throw what was now an illegal pitch. Three teams - Washington, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia – declined to name any of their pitchers. Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfus, long an outspoken opponent of the spitball, even passed up the opportunity to nominate his own right-hander, Hal Carlson, to throw the pitch. On the other hand, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Detroit, the Boston Braves, and the St. Louis Browns each named two spitballers. This clearly had an impact on the fortunes of some of these teams. Stan Coveleski and Ray Caldwell would both win 20 games for Cleveland, and Brooklyn’s Burleigh Grimes was one of the best pitchers in the National League.

The National League

Brooklyn's hitters scored 132 more runs this year than they did in 1919, while their pitchers were allowing roughly the same number in both seasons. No matter - improved pitching was the key to the Robins' improvement this season. With scoring up this year, the additional runs Brooklyn scored still left them with the third best offense in the senior circuit. However, no team in baseball allowed fewer runs, and Grimes was the key to the pitching. The 26 year old has had an erratic career to this point. He went 3-16 for a dreadful Pittsburgh team in 1917, his first full season. The Pirates traded him to Brooklyn, and he fashioned a fine 19-9 campaign. Last year he fell back again, making only 21 starts and winning just 10 games. But this year, along with Pete Alexander and Wilbur Cooper, Grimes was one of the best pitchers in baseball, winning 23 games with an ERA of 2.22 in more than 300 innings.

The Robins pulled away at the end, but the NL had a long and interesting pennant race that involved most of the league’s teams at one point or another. Only the hapless Braves and Phillies never got involved in the fun. The Braves were involved in one of the year’s most memorable games, however. On May 1, Boston played host to Brooklyn. Leon Cadore was pitching for the Robins, while the Braves countered with Joe Oeschger. The Robins scored first as Ivy Olson singled in Ernie Krueger in the fifth. The Braves tied it up in the next inning, when Walt Cruise tripled and scored on a single by Tony Boeckel. Tied at 1-1, the Braves loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth. But Charley Pick hit into a double play and the teams went to extra innings. Many, many extra innings. The Robins came close to breaking the tie in the 17th. With one out and the bases loaded, Rowdy Elliott hit a comebacker to the mound. Cadore threw home to erase the lead runner. Hank Gowdy then threw to first to try for the double play, but his throw sailed and first baseman Walter Holke, despite coming off the bag, could not catch it cleanly. Seeing an opportunity to finally end the game, Ed Konetchy lit out for home. Holke, however, recovered and threw to Gowdy who took the ball and lunged across the plate to tag the sliding Konetchy. And so they played on… and on…. and on. Finally, after 26 innings, with the score still tied at 1-1, umpire Barry McCormick called the game on account of darkness. They had been playing for almost four hours and it was almost 7:00 in the evening.

It must be frustrating to pitch 26 innings, allow just one run, and come away without a decision.

Cincinnati’s defending champs took the early season lead. The Reds had blown away the competition in 1919, winning 98 games and going on to win the World Series. This year’s team, however, had a couple of serious problems on the mound. A key part of Cincinnati’s success in 1919 was veteran LH Slim Sallee, who at the age of 34 turned in the best season of his career: 21-7, 2.06. Sallee throws extremely hittable junk, but he throws it for strikes. Last year, in more than 200 innings, he fanned just 24 batters – the lowest figure ever by a 20 game winner, and the lowest by any pitcher in more than 200 innings since 1876, when the game was very different indeed (among other things, pitchers were required to throw underhand.) Sallee walked even fewer men than he struck out, and his fielders were able to turn most of those balls in play into outs. This year, the league caught up to him, and he won just 5 games. The Reds let him go to New York on a waiver claim in September. The other Cincinnati pitcher to fall on tough times was Hod Eller, the star of last year’s World Series with two complete game victories. Eller has relied on a shine ball to win 45 games over the last three seasons. With his preferred pitch on the proscribed list, Eller struggled through a 13-12 season.

With the Reds falling back to the pack, almost everyone in the NL made a run for the top. Pittsburgh and Chicago both charged to the top briefly in late May, although neither team had much to commend it beyond a pitcher or two - Wilbur Cooper and Babe Adams of the Pirates, and the peerless Pete Alexander of the Cubs. Both clubs soon slipped out of the race.

Brooklyn seemed ready to challenge the Redlegs for the pennant from the very first week of the season. The beginning of June found the two teams tied for first place, and they remained locked in a close embrace for most of the month. The Robins eased ahead, and led by as much as 2.5 games, but the Reds fought back and eventually overtook them. Cincinnati had taken a 2 game lead over Brooklyn by late June, when a new contender suddenly made their move, powered by a brilliant new star.

Rogers Hornsby arrived in St. Louis as a shortstop, and played there for most of his first three seasons. But while he proved a fine hitter, his defense was found wanting. The Cards tried him at third base for much of last year, while also trying him at shortstop and second base. This year, he was installed at second base and left alone. In the field he was adequate – at the plate, he was a revelation. Hornsby came into the season as a lifetime .310 hitter; this year he batted a rousing .370 to lead the league. He also led the NL on On-Base Average, Slugging Percentage, and Runs Batted In. He is only 24 years old, and it certainly looks like a great new star has emerged in the National League.

Hornsby is an unusually serious, if not downright stubborn, young man – he is a player with very firm, very well-developed ideas on how to go about his business, and no interest whatsoever in compromising his positions. His batting approach is also unique. While many hitters these days stand close to the dish, the better to handle the outside pitch, Hornsby takes his stance as far away from the plate as the rules allow, in the back corner of the right-handed hitter’s box. From there, he strides diagonally into the pitch, and rips line drives to all fields with a smooth and level swing. He seems to hit the ball hard every time up.

Hornsby was sensational, but the Cardinals had little else – they were especially short in the pitching department. They could not keep pace with the Reds and Robins, and fell out of contention. Brooklyn and Cincinnati resumed their duel for first place. Cincinnati had stretched their lead to 3 games when the Robins suddenly caught fire. They ripped off 13 wins in 15 games, and came to Cincinnati on the 15th of July to play five games with the Reds, holding a two game lead. Rube Marquard pitched the Robins to victory on Friday, and Burleigh Grimes followed up with another win on Saturday, stretching Brooklyn’s lead to four games. But the Reds fought back to take the next two games, to cut the lead back to two games. Working on two days rest, Burleigh Grimes won the finale, and the Robins left town with a three game lead. Then, perhaps inevitably, they cooled off. They concluded their long road trip by losing three of four in Pittsburgh. Cincinnati came to Brooklyn at the end of July, trailing by 2.5 games and took three of four from the Robins. The two teams went into August still locked in a virtual dead heat.

They settled nothing in August. Both teams struggled somewhat – Brooklyn went 14-13, the Reds were 15-14 – and all they achieved was to allow the New York Giants to insert themselves into the fray. The Giants started slowly, and didn’t rise above the .500 mark to stay until the end of July. But a 26-10 run put them into the thick of the action by late August, within two games of the lead. The Giants team emerged as a very solid, well-balanced unit. The steady veterans Larry Doyle and Dave Bancroft (who came over in a mid-season trade for the aging Art Fletcher) held down the middle infield, while a pair of flashy young players made their mark. Switch-hitting rookie Frank Frisch, only 21 years old, took over at third base, and played with much more dash and hustle than the disgraced Heinie Zimmerman. The 23 year old right fielder Ross Youngs emerged as a star, batting .351 and reaching base more often than any player in the league. The future looks bright indeed for McGraw’s young Giants, even if it didn’t arrive in 1920.

The stage was set for an exciting September pennant battle. Surprisingly, it failed to materialize. After spending so much of the season exchanging first place between them, the Reds and Robins suddenly lit out in opposite direction. The defending champs stumbled, losing 16 of their final 29 games. By the close, they had fallen behind the Giants into third place. Meanwhile, the Robins put together another hot streak and pulled away from the competition. Brooklyn won 20 of their last 25, and took first place by a seven game margin.

The Revolution

On January 5, the New York Yankees announced that they had purchased the contract of pitcher-outfielder Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees paid a reported $125,000 for Ruth, which is at least double the amount any ball player has ever commanded as a purchase price. The Yankees also provided a loan of $300,000 to Boston owner Harry Frazee (who put up Fenway park as collateral.)

It must be galling for Boston rooters to see so many former Red Sox players playing crucial roles in the pennant race on behalf of other teams. Ruth was joined in New York by outfielder Duffy Lewis and pitcher Carl Mays. Larry Gardner, who drove in the winning run for Boston in the 1912 classic, was playing third base for Tris Speaker's Indians. Smokey Joe Wood, winner of three games in that same series, now patrols the Cleveland outfield, arm injuries having ended his pitching career. Speaker, sent to Cleveland four years ago in exchange for $55,000 and a couple of prospects, is surely the greatest player ever to wear a Boston uniform.

Babe Ruth had already established himself as a unique and remarkable talent. He had been an outstanding pitcher for the Red Sox since 1915, when he went 18-8 as a 20 year old rookie. He followed that up with consecutive 20 win seasons, and led the AL in ERA with a brilliant 1.75 mark in 1916. He pitched admirably in the post-season, winning all three of his World Series starts, and throwing a record 29 consecutive scoreless innings in the process. And he could hit, well enough to be used frequently as a pinch-hitter during his first three seasons. He hit so well that it became impossible not to let him do it. In 1918, Boston started playing Ruth in the field on days when he wasn’t pitching. He started 59 games in the field, and came to bat more than 300 teams. On the mound, he made just 19 starts and pitched only 166.1 innings, roughly half his workload in each of the two previous seasons. He pitched very well (13-7, 2.22), but as a hitter his 11 home runs and 48 extra-base hits led the league.

In 1919, for the first time, Ruth was more important to his team as a hitter than as a pitcher. He played 111 games in the outfield, and clobbered 29 home runs, the highest total ever recorded. He drove in 114 runs, more than anyone else in baseball. He still took the mound on occasion - he started 17 games and went 9-5, 2.97 – but he did very little pitching at all over the last few months of the season. The Red Sox generally sent him to the mound only if they had a double-header scheduled.

The Yankees put an end to this double duty. Ruth was relieved of all pitching responsibilities and made a full-time outfielder. His job description thus simplified, he launched an assault on the record book absolutely without precedent in the game’s history. The home runs caught everyone’s attention, and no wonder, but they were only part of the story. His 99 extra-base hits far surpassed Ty Cobb’s previous league record of 79, set in 1911; it also eclipsed Hugh Duffy’s all-time mark of 85, established in 1894. As a consequence, his slugging percentage was an unimaginable .847, by far the highest figure ever. Duffy had slugged .694 in his big year, to set the NL record. The previous best in the AL was Nap Lajoie’s .643 mark in the league’s inaugural season.

There was more. Ruth drew 150 bases on balls, also a record (Jimmy Sheckard of the Cubs walked 147 times in 1911.) Ruth walks so often because he is looking for a particular pitch to hit, one he can smash, and is willing to wait until he gets one. The pitchers are doing their best not to oblige, and many seem to have decided that throwing the ball anywhere near the strike zone when Ruth is at bat goes beyond mere foolishness and borders on outright lunacy.

Between the walks and the hits – Ruth batted .376 this season – he is almost always on base. He became the first man this century to reach base more often than he was retired. His On-Base Average was .532, the highest figure since John McGraw set the all-time record of .547 in 1899. When you’re on base that often, you will score some runs. By early September, Ruth had matched Cobb’s 1911 record of 147 runs scored. He finished up with 158. For an encore, he can still pursue the great Billy Hamilton’s all-time mark of 192 times crossing home plate, set back in 1894.

But still, it was the home runs that took the breath away. Ruth’s 1919 total of 29 seemed remarkable enough. By July of this season, he had surpassed it. He finished with the jaw-dropping total of 54 home runs. 54! - it still hardly seems possible. Only one team in baseball was able to hit more home runs than Ruth accounted for by himself – Ruth’s own Yankees, as his teammates combined to hit 61 long balls.

There has never been anything remotely like this in the game before. The first question that comes to mind is a simple one. How does he do it?

It is tempting to throw up one’s hands and say “Because he’s Babe Ruth!” He is a remarkably great player, and he is, in many ways, operating on a different, higher, level than the other men playing the game. He is also a new kind of player; he actually plays the game differently. It’s even possible that he points the way to a whole new approach to hitting. Whether anyone else will be able to follow the path that Ruth’s achievement suggests is out there… well, that remains to be seen.

There are some specific things we can point to. Ruth is a big man, a man of remarkable strength. This, of course, does not make him unique among ball players, not in the slightest. What is different about Ruth is how he has applied his strength to hitting. Simply put, Ruth is trying to crush the ball when he swings at it. He is not interested in merely making contact, in putting the ball in play somewhere. He is trying, with every swing, to put the ball out of play. No one has really tried this before. It has always been taken for granted that such an approach can not succeed. Ruth, however, is proving beyond a doubt that it can succeed, more often than anyone had ever suspected.

Ruth claims to have modeled his swing on that of Joe Jackson. There are some small similarities. Like Jackson, Ruth addresses the ball from an upright stance with his legs fairly close together. Ruth holds his bat more upright than Jackson, perpendicular to the ground; Jackson lays the bat over his left shoulder. Ruth takes a slightly longer stride into the ball; he effectively shifts his body weight from his back leg to his front leg as he whips the bat through the hitting zone. This appears to be how he is able to unleash a swing with all the force of his massive upper body behind it. The stroke itself is rather short and quick, considering the length of the stride and the size of the man swinging the bat. In its entirety, his swing is a miracle of balance, grace, and awesome, explosive power. What is less elegant is what happens when all of this force is spent in vain and the swing fails to make contact. Ruth often ends such swings with his legs twisted almost grotesquely beneath him, and sometimes actually loses his balance.

All this is nothing short of revolutionary. It is not, not even remotely, the "proper" way to swing at a pitched ball. Ruth would surely have been coached out of it and taught the right way to do things, except for one ironic fact: because he came up as a pitcher, no one cared all that much how he hit. He was, essentially, allowed to follow his muse in the batter’s box.

This is where it led.

Remarkably enough, Ruth’s performance this year may have been little more than something he was always capable of doing. His light had been hidden beneath a bushel – two bushels in fact. First, as a full-time pitcher, he was always just a part-time hitter. Second, he spent his first five seasons playing his home games in Fenway Park. If you’re a left-handed batter in Fenway Park, you have to hit the ball a long way to clear the fence in right field. Ruth hits many balls a very long way indeed, but his home field was still working against his strength in half of his games. Of Ruth’s 29 homers in 1919, only 9 came in Boston. By contrast, the short foul line at the Polo Grounds, his new home, might as well have been designed to meet Ruth’s requirements.

The American League

Ruth wasn't the only man assaulting the record book this season. Another of Ty Cobb’s 1911 marks fell when George Sisler of the Browns rapped out 257 hits, surpassing Cobb’s old mark of 248, while leading all of baseball with a .407 batting average. Sisler was the best news in St.Louis, who never looked like a serious contender but were at least able to move up in the standings from the previous year, from fifth place to fourth. The Browns got fine pitching from Urban Shocker and Dixie Davis; journeyman Ken Williams gave them an additional bat in the outfield. But pitchers Allen Sothoron and Carl Weilman, who combined for 30 victories in 1919, fell far short of expectations.

St. Louis at least was moving up. Detroit fell apart completely. The Tigers had finished a very strong fourth in 1919, but this year was a disaster from the very start. They staggered out of the starting gate, losing the first 13 games they played. It was May before they finally made it into the win column. Only the ineptitude of the Philadelphia A’s prevented the Tigers from falling all the way to last place. Ty Cobb is now 33 years old, and he suffered through his worst season in more than a decade. He missed more than 40 games with various hurts, a July knee injury in particular. After leading the league in hitting in 11 of the past 13 seasons (and finishing second the other two times), his batting average fell to .334, good for just tenth place in the league. He stole only 15 bases, his lowest total since becoming a regular back in 1906.

Another of the league’s great veterans had a troubled season. Washington’s Walter Johnson achieved a pair of noteworthy milestones in 1920. On May 14, the Big Train beat Detroit for his third victory of the season and the 300th of his remarkable career. Then, on the first of July, he finally pitched a no-hit game while beating the Red Sox 1-0. The next day, however, he came down with his first sore arm. He made just two more starts the rest of the way, losing both, and finished the year with a mere 8 wins against 10 losses. It broke off his remarkable run of 10 consecutive 20 win seasons. Only Cy Young, who had 15 straight 20 win seasons, and Christy Mathewson, who had 12, have surpassed Johnson’s achievement (also accomplished by the great Kid Nichols.) The Senators had been able to linger around the edge of the AL pennant race to this stage, but without their ace they quickly slipped far behind the leaders.

Early on, Boston looked like they were ready to put their disastrous 1919 season behind them and challenge for the title they had won as recently as two seasons before. Two of the men who had pitched the Red Sox to that last championship, Carl Mays and Babe Ruth, were now playing for the Yankees. But Bullet Joe Bush was back after missing almost all of the 1919 season, and Boston fans hoped that some of the young, and so far unproven, pitchers – Sam Jones, Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt – might be able to step forward. Hoyt, just 20 years old, did win his first three starts, but just three more games the rest of the way. Pennock, Jones, and Bush were a combined 44-44. The Red Sox broke sharply from the gate, winning 7 of their first 8, but then slowly drifted out of the contention, ending up in fifth place.

And so the AL pennant race turned into a close and thrilling battle between three teams – Chicago, New York, and Cleveland.

Chicago’s defense of their 1919 pennant got off to a fine start, as they won their first six games. They moved ahead of Boston in early May, but then Cleveland came calling. The Indians gave the first strong indication that they would be challenging the White Sox for their title, by taking four of five from Chicago in Comiskey Park. The White Sox stumbled through the rest of the month, dropping as low as fifth place.

But the White Sox were still the defending champs, and in many ways, the this year's squad looked even stronger. Their own designated spitballer, Red Faber, had returned from the injuries and illness that had kept him off the mound for most of 1919. Dickie Kerr, the little LH who proved their best pitcher in last year’s World Series, had established himself as a regular member of the starting rotation. Last year's aces, Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams, were still at the top of their games. The White Sox would become the first team ever to have four 20 game winners. The Sox got the usual brilliant seasons from their two great stars, Joe Jackson and Eddie Collins. This year, Collins and Jackson received better support from the rest of the lineup. Buck Weaver had the best year of his fine career, hitting .331 and scoring 102 runs. And centre fielder Hap Felsch unexpectedly emerged as one of the best players in the league. Felsch hit .338, slugged 14 homers, and drove in 115 runs, by far his best season.

But the greatest hitting hero of all was patrolling the outfield in New York. Babe Ruth hit his first homer as a Yankee on May 1, against his old Boston mates. It was a prodigious blast that cleared the roof of the Polo Grounds. New York had stumbled out of the gate, but as Ruth’s bat began to heat up, the Yankees started moving up through the pack. In late May they caught fire. They ripped off 18 wins in 20 games, and as the calendar turned to June they found themselves locked in a virtual tie with Cleveland atop the AL standings.

Ruth’s astounding performance accounted for most of the Yankees improvement, which was mostly a matter of the offense. The Yankees had scored 578 runs in 1919, just about the league average. This year they increased that total by a whopping 260 runs, scoring 838 times. It was not quite enough to lead the league, but their output was just behind Cleveland’s. The Yankees already had the best pitching in the AL. Carl Mays took quite a while before finding his form this season, but he was unbeatable over the last three months and led the league with 26 victories. He was ably supported by Bob Shawkey and Jack Quinn.

Ruth did have some help, of course. Veteran infielders Del Pratt and Aaron Ward had solid seasons. The Yankees unveiled a promising rookie outfielder named Bob Meusel, a tall and powerful right handed hitter with a remarkable throwing arm. With Ruth and Duffy Lewis set in the outfield corners, the Yankees didn’t really have a spot for him. Meusel's bat, however, kept forcing Miller Huggins to find ways to get him into the lineup; he was even allowed to make 13 errors in just 45 games in at third base. Meusel batted .328 with 11 HR and 83 RBI. Of his teammates, only Ruth bested him in those categories.

By the sixth of June, the Yankees and Indians were tied for first. Cleveland met the challenge, and held onto the lead through the entire month of June. The Yankees never fell further than two games back, and drew even with the Indians again and again, but were unable to overtake them until the first of July. The Yankees won in spectacular fashion on July 6, scoring 14 runs in the fifth inning against Washington, on the way to a 17-0 victory – no team has ever scored so many runs in a single at bat. The Indians, as ever, refused to yield and were back in first place by the end of the week. They had their own record-breaking feat to celebrate, as Tris Speaker rapped out base hits in 11 consecutive at bats, breaking a record first set in 1897 by the great and famous Ed Delahanty and the obscure and forgotten Jake Gettman (and tied just last season by Brooklyn’s Ed Konetchy.).

The duel between the two teams extended for 55 days, from June 4 through July 28. During that time, the Yankees held first place for just five of them, from July 1-5. The two teams ended the day’s action tied for first place 16 times. While Cleveland spent 34 days in first place, only three times – on June 15 and again on July 17 and 20 – were they able to stretch their advantage to as much as two games.

Finally, at the end of July, Cleveland looked as if they might be beginning to pull away at last. From being tied with the Yankees on July 22, Cleveland had a two game lead by the 29th. By the end of July, the lead was up to three games, and by the 5th of August, Cleveland was 4.5 games in front.

But now the Chicago White Sox, who had spent the previous two months lurking in third place, finally made their charge towards the top. By August 9, Chicago had drawn even with New York, and the next day they moved past them into second place. But the Yankees refused to fade away. The New Yorkers came to Cleveland and took four straight games from the first place Indians. By the middle of August, there was essentially a three-way tie atop the standings.

                                 G    W    L   PCT    GB    RS   RA
Cleveland Indians              109   69   40  .633   0.5   618  486
New York Yankees               114   72   42  .632     -   642  455
Chicago White Sox              113   71   42  .628   0.5   560  484

The Tragedy

And so, on the 16th of August, Cleveland came to the Polo Grounds to open up a three game series with the Yankees. Both pitchers, Stan Coveleski and Carl Mays, had won 18 games so far – after a slow start, Mays had won 10 games in the previous six weeks. Steve O’Neill hit a second inning home run to put Cleveland ahead. With the aid of two Yankee errors, the lead was 3-0 after four innings.

Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman led off the fifth inning. Crouching over home plate, he watched a ball go by, and then a strike. Mays, with his unique submarine motion, delivered the 1-1 pitch. It was a fastball that rode in high and tight and caught the batter flush on the left temple. Mays said afterward that the pitch had “sailed” on him. Yankees manager Miller Huggins wondered if Chapman's spikes had stuck as he started to move out of the way. Cleveland pitcher Ray Caldwell, looking on from the dugout, thought his teammate ducked down into the ball.

The crack of the ball could be heard all over the stand, and spectators gasped as they turned their heads away.
New York Times, August 17, 1920.

Chapman fell to the ground in the batter’s box, as the ball rolled back towards the infield. Mays, thinking the ball had hit Chapman’s bat, fielded it and threw over to first base. Chapman rose unsteadily to his feet, took a couple of tentative steps towards first base, and then collapsed. He was taken first to the clubhouse, and then to St. Lawrence Hospital. An X-ray examination revealed a severe depressed fracture on the left side of his skull three and a half inches long.

Two surgeons operated on Chapman later that evening. In a procedure that lasted more than an hour, they removed an inch square piece of the skull and observed a rupture of the lateral sinus and a considerable amount of blood clotting. They speculated that he had suffered comparable injuries to the other side of his brain as well. For a brief time after the operation Chapman was breathing easier, but his condition quickly deteriorated. He died at 4:40 in the morning. His wife, three months pregnant with their first child, had been informed of his injury, and was on her way to New York.

Ray Chapman was 29 years old. He came from McHenry Kentucky, near Beaver Dam. His family moved to Illinois just after the turn of the century, and Chapman began playing in semipro leagues in 1909. He joined Cleveland in 1912, and fought his way through a crowd of shortstops (a crowd that included the Yankees Roger Peckinpaugh) to win the job. By 1917, he had established himself as the best at his position in the American League, a superb defender and a fine hitter at the top of the batting order. He had led the league in runs scored in 1918. He was again among the league leaders in 1920, with 97 runs scored in just 111 games. An excellent bunter, he led the league in sacrifice hits twice, establishing an all-time record with 67 sacrifices in 1917, the same season he stole a career best 52 bases. He was one of a group of fine shortstops who were all born in 1891 – Peckinpaugh, Buck Weaver, Rabbit Maranville, Davey Bancroft – and he had quite clearly established himself as the best of the lot.

In the aftermath, some have wondered if the styles of the two players involved may have been a contributing factor. Chapman was known to crowd home plate, and the New York Times wrote that “Chapman is one of the few players who find it difficult to avoid being hit by pitched balls… he has been hit frequently on the arms and body.” We want some kind of explanation, but this one simply will not do. Chapman was seldom hit by pitches, despite his habit of leaning over home plate. The pitch that ended his life was only the second one to hit him during the 1920 season; over the entire course of his nine year career, Chapman was hit by the pitch a mere 19 times. Washington’s Bucky Harris was struck by 21 pitches this season alone.

The pitcher, Carl Mays, is not a popular player around the league - in sharp contrast to Chapman, who was liked and admired by teammates and rivals alike, by people as different as Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. Mays also has a reputation for aggressively pitching inside to hitters. Mays led the league with 14 hit batsmen in 1917, and was second in this category in the two following seasons. There was also a famous incident involving Mays and Ty Cobb five years ago, when he threw repeatedly at the Detroit star, finally hitting him in the wrist. In the wake of the Chapman tragedy, Cobb was quick to assign blame:

That Mays has been pitching like that since he came into the league.....something has to be done now.....he killed a great little guy and a wonderful ballplayer....give the man a taste of his own medicine I say.

The self-interested ranting of Ty Cobb notwithstanding, it still seems unreasonable to blame this tragedy on the individuals involved. The game situation itself argues strongly against it – the Yankees were trailing by three runs. They were losing, but they were certainly still in the game. It made no sense to put the first batter of the inning, a speedy runner, on base with Tris Speaker coming up to bat in the next spot.

The death of Ray Chapman was simply an accident that flowed from the regular course of the game itself. That is probably the most disturbing news of all. It happened in a game played on an overcast afternoon, in a drizzle of rain; a game played with a dark and dirty baseball; with a pitcher whose unusual and deceptive delivery may indeed make it harder for the batter to pick up sight of the ball as it leaves the pitcher's hand. A fastball sailed away from a pitcher, and was not seen by the hitter until too late. This could all too easily happen again.

The Resolution

Chapman had played every one of the Indians 111 games. In addition to the boundless shock and sorrow felt by his teammates, his death left an enormous hole in the Cleveland lineup. The Indians immediately stumbled, losing 7 of their next 9 games. Meanwhile, the White Sox had finally caught fire. They won 13 of 16 games in mid-August, and roared to the top of the heap. By August 26, Chicago had a 3.5 game lead over Cleveland, with the Yankees 4 games back.

It says much for the character of the Cleveland ball club, and the leadership of Tris Speaker, that they were able to right the ship after their appalling misfortune. The Cleveland team differed from its two leading competitors largely by being the most balanced and complete team in the race. The Yankees were being tugged along by the unprecedented work of Babe Ruth – the rest of the lineup was, on the whole, probably below average. The White Sox had several outstanding players, but obvious shortcomings in the outfield, at first base, and at shortstop.

Cleveland, by contrast, had no weaknesses. Tris Speaker, while not quite Ruth, was certainly a match for Joe Jackson with the bat, and superior to both in the field. The rest of the lineup was much more solid, from top to bottom, than Chicago’s – the only conspicuously weak hitter was second baseman Bill Wambsganss. In his first full season as a manager, Speaker proved innovative and flexible. The American League was awash in left-handed pitching this season; most teams actually had two LH starters. Speaker took note of this fact, and constructed his lineups accordingly. Right-handed hitters Joe Evans and Joe Wood regularly replaced lefty-hitting outfielders Elmer Smith and Charlie Jamieson when the opposition had a southpaw on the mound. Cleveland scored runs mainly by getting more people on base than any other team in the league. Other teams stole more bases, or hit with more power – but the Indians had the most men on base, and scored the most runs.

The Indians did have one minor weakness. While they were getting excellent work from three starters – Jim Bagby, Stan Coveleski, and Ray Caldwell – Speaker had not found a consistent fourth starter. Guy Morton, Elmer Myers, and young George Uhle all had auditions in the role. All were found wanting. Speaker therefore had to work his top three a bit harder than he would have liked. Consequently, one of the most significant developments in the pennant race was a transaction that seemed of little import when it took place. At the end of August, Cleveland purchased young LH Duster Mails from the Pacific Coast League. Mails had pitched briefly in relief with Brooklyn in 1915 and 1916. He had yet to win a major league game. That would soon change. Down the stretch with the Indians, in the heat of the pennant race, Malls would win his each of his first seven starts, and finish up 7-0, 1.85. One problem was solved.

Cleveland's other problem, of course, was at shortstop. Harry Lunte, the light-hitting utility man, had taken over the job initially, but Lunte was himself injured in early September. This left the Indians with backup outfielder Joe Evans filling in at shortstop. Finally, in desperation, Cleveland handed the job to a 21 year old out of Alabama who was playing his first professional season. Young Joe Sewell struggled mightily in the field – he made 15 errors in his 22 games – but quickly asserted himself with the bat, hitting .329 and scoring 14 runs. The lineup was restored.

The White Sox had drawn even with Cleveland on August 20, and they moved into sole possession of first place the next day, for the first time in almost four months. They stretched out their lead while the reeling Indians fell back. However, the Sox began to cool off towards the end of the month. They lost seven straight games in late August and early September, to allow everyone else back into the race. As the teams headed into the final month, the race could hardly have been closer:

                                 G    W    L   PCT    GB    RS   RA
Cleveland Indians              125   77   48  .616     -   684  542
Chicago White Sox              126   77   49  .611   0.5   626  539
New York Yankees               128   78   50  .609   0.5   702  524

This was the day Duster Mails made his Cleveland debut, defeating Washington 9-5 while Dickie Kerr and the White Sox lost in Boston. Carl Mays of the Yankees was pitching a shutout against St.Louis. Over the next week, the New Yorkers would split four games with the Red Sox in Boston, and then sweep three from St.Louis at the Polo Grounds. Cleveland kicked off a stretch of 21 straight home games by taking two of three from Detroit, and a pair of games from St. Louis. Chicago also looked to be in great shape – they were beginning a stretch of 20 straight games at home, mostly against the league’s lesser lights: in fact, the Yankees were the only team coming to town with a winning record. But they stumbled at first, losing two of four from the Browns, before taking two of three from Detroit.

On Thursday September 8, the Yankees came to Cleveland and took two games out of three (Joe Sewell made his debut in the Friday game). Meanwhile Chicago was taking two of three from Boston. The impossibly close race tightened up even more:

                                 G    W    L   PCT    GB    RS   RA
Cleveland Indians              133   82   51  .617   0.5   726  572
New York Yankees               138   85   53  .616     -   746  556
Chicago White Sox              137   84   53  .613   0.5   675  581

Cleveland recovered to take three of four from the hapless A’s, while Chicago dropped two of three against Washington. The Yankees continued to roll, winning three in a row against Detroit, and opening up a lead of one game over Cleveland, and 2.5 games over Chicago.

But the White Sox weren’t done. The Yankees came to Comiskey Park, and were stopped in their tracks. Dickie Kerr, Red Faber, and Eddie Cicotte did the pitching, while the Sox batters punished New York pitching for 29 runs in the three games. They then won another three straight from Philadelphia.

Cleveland, meanwhile, swept three straight from both Washington and Boston, extending their winning streak to seven games. By September 21, Cleveland was back on top – Chicago trailed by 1.5 games. New York was now 3 games back.

The Yankees split four games with Washington, wasting an opportunity to gain ground on the White Sox or the Indians, who were playing a three game series in Cleveland. Chicago needed to win at least two of three to stay in the hunt, and that’s what they did. They prevailed 10-3 behind Dickie Kerr in the first game, to close to half a game back. Cleveland came back the next day, as Duster Mails won his seventh in a row 2-0, to restore the 1.5 game lead. In the finale, Joe Jackson clubbed a homer and two doubles, as the White Sox won 5-1 behind Claude Williams. The lead was again down to half a game.

From there, Chicago won two games from Detroit, while Cleveland took two games from St. Louis. Cleveland’s lead was still half a game, and they still had six games left to play – two more with St. Louis, and a four game set against Detroit. The Yankees, three games back with three to play, were all but out of it. They had played well enough in September – they won 18 and lost just 9 - but it didn't matter. They hadn’t quite been able to keep up with Chicago and Cleveland.

The White Sox had three games left with St.Louis. If Cleveland won five of their final six games, it made no difference what the White Sox did. But anything less, and Chicago would have a chance. If the White Sox could sweep the Browns, Cleveland would need to win four of their final six to assure themselves a tie. It was still anyone’s pennant to win.

And then the other shoe dropped, with a resounding crash. And all hell broke loose.

The Scandal

It had been building for a while. On August 31, the Phillies and Cubs had played an apparently meaningless game in Chicago. Before the game, Cubs president Bill Veeck received several telegrams warning him that the game was fixed. Veeck, puzzled but concerned, ordered that his scheduled starter, Claude Hendrix, be replaced by ace Pete Alexander. Veeck also offered Alexander a $500 bonus if he won the game. The Phillies won 3-0 anyway.

Reports soon emerged that thousands of dollars had been wagered on the last place Phillies. Veeck shared what he knew with the local writers, and on September 2 the Chicago Herald and Examiner reported that the Cubs-Phillies game had been fixed.

On September 5, the Chicago Tribune published a letter from local businessman Fred Loomis demanding an investigation of gambling in baseball. (Tribune writer Jim Crusinberry arranged for the letter's publication, and may have had something to do with its composition.)

On September 7, a grand jury was convened to look into the matter. Their investigation soon expanded beyond the single Cubs-Phillies game onto the subject of gambling in baseball.

On September 21, AL President Ban Johnson claimed to have evidence that gamblers were threatening to expose the World Series fix if the White Sox did not drop out of the current race and allow Cleveland to win.

On September 24, the New York Times published a front page story on the grand jury testimony of Rube Benton. Benton testified that the notorious Hal Chase had tipped him off that the 1919 World Series had been fixed. Chase claimed to have won $40,000 betting on Cincinnati.

On September 27, the biggest bombshell of all appeared. James Isaminger had interviewed Billy Maharg for the Philadelphia North American. Maharg claimed that eight Chicago players had conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series – he had dates, places, and the names of the Chicago eight.

On the next day, September 28, Eddie Cicotte confessed his involvement in the World Series fix, first to the White Sox, and then to the grand jury. Joe Jackson followed him to the witness stand later that day. White Sox owner Charles Comiskey quickly suspended all eight of the Chicago players named by Maharg.

The White Sox had three straight off days while the scandal was breaking, during which the pennant race seemed almost an afterthought. But the pennant race was continuing. While the White Sox were idle on the field and active at the courthouse, Cleveland won their two remaining games against St.Louis to take a 1.5 game lead into the final weekend.

The remnants of the White Sox team took the field in St.Louis on Friday afternoon. With Weaver and Risberg out, Harvey McClellan played short and Eddie Murphy played third, while Amos Strunk and Bibb Falk filled in for the absent Jackson and Felsch in the outfield. Red Faber was still available to pitch, but the Sox lost 8-6. Cleveland played a double-header with Detroit: they lost the opener, but their victory in the second game clinched a tie for first place. Chicago beat St.Louis on Saturday behind Dickie Kerr, but it didn’t matter. Jim Bagby picked up his 31st win of the season, and his eighth in the final month, as the Indians pounded Detroit 10-1, and took the AL pennant.

The World Series

The World Series matched the Cleveland team that had scored more runs than any other team in baseball against the Brooklyn pitching staff that had allowed the fewest. The schedule called for the first three games to be played at Brooklyn's Ebbetts Field. The action would then shift to Cleveland's League Park for the next four games, before returning to Brooklyn for the conclusion.

Before play began, Brooklyn owner Charles Ebbetts, demonstrating the finest sense of sportsmanship, allowed Cleveland to add Joe Sewell, Ray Chapman's replacement, to their World Series roster. Sewell had not joined the Cleveland team until after September 1, and would not normally have been eligible to play in the World Series.

Brooklyn manager Wilbert Robinson chose veteran LH Rube Marquard as his Game One starter. This seemed inexplicable. Marquard had gone 10-7, 3.23 in 28 starts - a decent enough season. But six Brooklyn pitchers had started 10 or more games, and every one of them won more games than Marquard. Nine pitchers appeared in games for Brooklyn in 1920, and every one of them had an ERA lower than Marquard's. One of those pitchers was Burleigh Grimes, probably the second best pitcher in the National League this past year. But despite winning the league by a comfortable seven games, Robinson did not bother to set up his rotation in preparation for the coming World Series. Grimes had started a meaningless game on Saturday, and with just two days rest when the Series opened on Tuesday was not available to pitch until the second game.

Given the ball, Marquard gave Brooklyn a decent enough outing. Cleveland got two runs in the second inning on three hits, a walk, and an error - the big blow was an RBI double by catcher Steve O'Neill that scored Joe Wood. O'Neill and Wood teamed up to produce another Cleveland run in the fourth inning - with one out, Wood doubled to left, and he scored his second run of the day on O'Neill's two out double. Meanwhile, Stan Coveleski was mowing down the Brooklyn lineup. He retired the first nine hitters, before Ivy Olson led off the fourth with a single. In the seventh, Zack Wheat led off with a double, and came around to score after a pair of ground outs. But Wheat was the only Robin to make it past second base on this day, and Cleveland took a 3-1 win in the first game.

Burleigh Grimes got his chance in Game Two. The man with the spitball was matched up with Cleveland's 31 game winner, Jim Bagby. Zack Wheat doubled in the first run in the first inning; Tommy Griffith did likewise in the third, and Griffith drove in another in the fifth. Grimes scattered seven hits, and stranded 10 runners, for the 3-0 shutout, and the series was even.

The third game pitted Ray Caldwell, one of Cleveland's three 20 game winners, against Brooklyn's Sherry Smith. Only 12 of Smith's 33 appearances this year came as a starter, and while his record was just 11-9, his ERA of 1.85 was the best of any Brooklyn pitcher. The Robins scored on Caldwell right away. A leadoff walk to Ivy Olson was followed by a sac bunt. Griffith reached on an error by Sewell. Zack Wheat and Hy Myers delivered RBI singles to put Brooklyn ahead 2-0, and Tris Speaker got his hook out. He pulled Caldwell, and brought September sensation Duster Mails in to pitch.

Mails did the job, shutting the Robins down completely through the seventh inning. Cleveland could not get anything going against Sherry Smith, however. In the fourth inning, Speaker doubled to left field for the Indians' first hit of the day, and when Zack Wheat misplayed the ball, Speaker came all the way home to make it a 2-1 game. Cleveland's best chance to score came in the next inning. With one out, Joe Sewell drew a walk and Steve O'Neill singled, bringing pitcher Duster Mails to the plate. Speaker elected not to use a pinch-hitter, and Mails ended the threat by hitting into a double play. Smith was well nigh untouchable the rest of the way, facing the minimum 12 batters. When O'Neill singled with one out in the eighth, Speaker did call on a pinch-hitter to bat for Mails, and this time it was the pinch-hitter who hit into the inning-ending double play.

The action resumed in Cleveland on Saturday, with Stan Coveleski making his second series start. On the hill for Brooklyn was Leon Cadore. Cleveland scored two runs off Cadore immediately. After a one-out walk to Wambsganss, Speaker and Smith hit singles, and Gardner hit a sac fly. When Sewell and O'Neill started the second inning with two more hits, Robinson got Cadore out of there and called on hard-throwing Al Mamaux. Brooklyn escaped that inning without allowing a run, so when Speaker and Smith started the third inning with a pair of hits, Robinson went to his pen again. This time Game One starter Rube Marquard came in to face Cleveland's Elmer Smith. Speaker, as per his custom, called Smith back and sent RH hitting George Burns to bat instead. Burns delivered a two run single, making the score 4-0, and that was that. The final was 5-1, Coveleski had two wins in two tries, and the series was tied.

Game Five was a rout, but it was full of strange and wonderful feats. Bagby and Grimes, the game two starters, were back on the hill. Cleveland struck quickly. The first two batters, Jamieson and Wambsganss, both hit singles; Speaker then beat out a bunt to load the bases. That brought Elmer Smith to the plate, and he drove the ball into the crowd for the first bases-loaded home run in World Series history. Jim Bagby now had a 4-0 lead to work with, and that was still the score when Bagby himself came up to bat in the fourth inning. Doc Johnston had started the inning with a single, and the Robins had intentionally walked Steve O'Neill in order to pitch to Bagby. The strategy backfired, however, as Bagby whacked a three-run homer, the first ever by a pitcher in World Series play, to put Cleveland ahead 7-0.

On the mound, Bagby was constantly in trouble - he would allow no less than 13 hits this afternoon - but was able to escape one crisis after another and went the distance in the 8-1 win. In the second inning, Ed Konetchy was thrown out at home trying score on Pete Kilduff's fly out to left, ending the inning. Brooklyn had three hits in the next inning, but Grimes hit into a double play in the midst of it all, and the Robins stranded two men. The Robins hit into yet another double play in the seventh inning, and Hy Myers was twice thrown out attempting to steal.

Most shocking of all, however, was how Brooklyn's promising fifth inning was snuffed out. The Robins were trailing 7-0 by this time, so they had a long way to go if they hoped to make a game of it. But Kilduff led off with a single, and moved up to second when Otto Miller singled to centre field. With pitcher Clarence Mitchell batting, Robinson put his runners in motion. Mitchell hit a line drive up the middle, that landed smack in the glove of Cleveland second baseman Bill Wambsganss, moving towards second base. Wambsganss stepped on the bag to double off Kilduff for the second out, and turned to his left to see a shocked Otto Miller, standing in the base path just a few steps away. Wambsganss tagged Miller for the third out, to complete the unassisted triple play. It was the first triple play in World Series history, and just the second unassisted triple play in the history of the game.

Brooklyn had scored just one run in the fourth game, and just one run in the fifth game. Things didn't get any better for the Robins in the sixth game, as they were shut out on just three hits by Duster Mails. Brooklyn loaded the bases on a single by Konetchy and two Cleveland errors, but Mails retired Smith on a fly ball to Speaker. With one out in the fourth, Myers singled and Konetchy walked, but Mails got both Kilduff and Miller on fly balls to the outfield. Sherry Smith matched Mails through the first five innings, but with two out in the sixth, Speaker singled and came all the way home on Burns' double. It was the game's only run, and Cleveland now led the Series four games to two.

Cleveland wrapped it up the next day with their fourth straight win at League Park. Brooklyn was shut out for the second game in a row, and Stanley Coveleski made it three complete game victories wins in as many tries. His sensational performance was by far the biggest story of the series, the unique and historic events of the fifth game notwithstanding. It ranks with the work turned in by Babe Adams in 1909 as one of the greatest pitching performances in World Series history, surpassed only by Christy Mathewson's three shutouts in the 1905 series.

Brooklyn scored just 2 runs in the final four games, and just 8 runs altogether in the 7 games played. The Robins' pitching, so marvellous during the season and the key to their success, came up a little short. Burleigh Grimes pitched a shutout in his first appearance, but the Indians solved him in his subsequent outings. Sherry Smith pitched brilliantly, but received little help from his teammates.

And so the Cleveland Indians, for the first time, are World Series champs. No team has ever had to overcome the adversity they faced; let us hope no other team must ever try.

The Aftermath

With the action on the field concluded, we were obliged to turn our attention back to the courtroom. On October 22, sixteen men - the eight Chicago players, five gamblers, and three go-betweens were indicted on nine charges of conspiracy to defraud various individuals and institutions. It is not against the law to throw a baseball game.

The foul stench of corruption has been growing stronger for some time now. Surely everybody knew; at a minimum, surely everybody suspected. Baseball has been aware of the crooks in its midst for a long time, and its response has always been to look the other way. And when that was not feasible, it has always done its best to cover the matter with a cloud of dust.

Doubtless it will try to do so again.

However, the men who have run major league baseball have been forced to conclude that the current way of doing business, which has been in place since 1901, will no longer suffice. And so the often unworkable National Commission has been replaced and one man, a commissioner, has been put in charge. Ban Johnson resisted this proposal, put forth by the eight National League teams. However, when New York, Boston, and Chicago from Johnson's American League, threatened to join the National League and help form what would be a single twelve team league, Johnson had little option besides surrender.

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis will be the commissioner. Landis is well known to the men who run the game. He heard the case made against major league baseball in 1914 by the Federal League. Landis took the case "under advisement," and managed to spin out the proceedings for so long that the Federal League had gone out of business before the case was ever heard.

It has been baseball's annus horribilis. A popular star is dead, killed playing the game. The game is under a cloud of scandal and suspicion, involving one of its greatest and most celebrated players. One of the greatest and most popular players ever to play fights for his life in a tuberculosis sanitarium. On the other hand... well, there was Babe Ruth. He alone made everything vivid, new, and interesting. There were the dazzling and unforgettable plays we saw from players who were not so famous and not so celebrated – Elmer Smith, Jim Bagby, and Bill Wambsganss. And there was Lou Gehrig.

Lou Gehrig?

Lou Gehrig is a high school junior from New York City. This summer, Chicago and New York inaugurated a challenge match between the best high school baseball teams from each city. This year’s contest was played at Cubs Park in Chicago. The team from the New York’s Commerce High took an 8-6 lead to the ninth inning against Chicago’s Lane Tech squad. They loaded the bases, bringing young Gehrig to the plate. Before an assemblage of wide-eyed scouts, the 17 year old blasted a pitch deep over the wall in right field for a grand slam home run. An impossibly bright future seems to beckon to him.

We can always hope. For surely the only thing that can ease the shame and the pain of what has gone before is the hope and promise of something better to come.

The Year in Review: 1920 | 14 comments | Create New Account
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Magpie - Thursday, December 01 2005 @ 06:39 AM EST (#133906) #
A bit of trivia that I couldn't find a good excuse to work into the actual story. It concerns George Browne, the Giants outfielder whose death is reported in the first part of the story.

Browne was playing RF for the Giants when they took an 11-1 lead over Brooklyn on June 29, 1905. McGraw pulled Browne from the game, and replaced him with... Moonlight Graham.

It's odd that Graham is now much more famous than Browne.

Mike Green - Thursday, December 01 2005 @ 09:25 AM EST (#133910) #
Wonderful, Magpie.
Jordan - Thursday, December 01 2005 @ 09:26 AM EST (#133912) #
Wow. I mean, wow.
Blue in SK - Thursday, December 01 2005 @ 10:23 AM EST (#133922) #
I concur, Wow. Simply amazing work Magpie.
John Northey - Thursday, December 01 2005 @ 01:11 PM EST (#133931) #
Great stuff! I hope to see a sequel, say about a season from pre-1900 or even from the 1871-1875 National Association era. I know a bit about that time but I'd love an in-depth article like this about it.

Also, have you thought about submitting it to SABR to be used in one of their annuals? A dead tree edition of this would be nice to have (other than a print out that is).
sduguid - Thursday, December 01 2005 @ 02:00 PM EST (#133935) #
Brilliant! That made my day!
jgadfly - Thursday, December 01 2005 @ 06:31 PM EST (#133955) #
Magpie...Great writing...your love of the game comes shining through...this should be published elsewhere...I didn't realize how dominant Babe Ruth's early homerun hitting was and that the Yankees played at the Polo Grounds with its short right field fence...quite the year for upheaval and turmoil...when did the game become "peanuts & crackerjack" and how did so many people get off work to go to the "ol' ballgame"
HollywoodHartman - Thursday, December 01 2005 @ 06:46 PM EST (#133957) #
You know I do have an essay to write Magpie. You trying to make me fail? But seriously that was an amazing article, good job! :)
Nick - Thursday, December 01 2005 @ 07:24 PM EST (#133959) #
Great work, Magpie. I love the theory that Ruth was able to develope his unique (at the time) swing because he was more or less ignored as a hitter when he came up as a pitcher. Is this a widely believed/accepted theory or is this your take? I have read Robert Creamer's brilliant biography of Ruth and I think I might just just give it another go-around as a refresher.
Magpie - Thursday, December 01 2005 @ 07:57 PM EST (#133961) #
Thanks for all the kind words, gang. We got the best readers here anyone could ask for! :-)

Ruth... I'm sure the idea that he was allowed to hit the way he did because he was a great pitcher and no one really cared how he hit is more or less common currency. Although probably the most important factor was, as everyone who has ever written about Ruth seems to have noted, you couldn't tell him anything anyway. He was going to do things the way he wanted to.

Someof the most fun I had was peering over a brief little clip of Shoeless Joe Jackson hacking away in the batter's box, and trying to figure out how to get from that swing to Ruth's...

The 1890s... hmmmm. I'd love an excuse to write about Cy Young and Kid Nichols. I had been thinking either 1941 (the streak, the war, Teddy Ballgame) or 1978 (Bucky Dent! and I actually remember 1978!). But maybe I'll see what... oh, 1897 has to offer. Next time! Whenever that turns out to be...

Willy - Thursday, December 01 2005 @ 08:32 PM EST (#133966) #
Thoughtful, intelligent, affectionate, and a treat to read--what more could we ask? Much better than my old Reach Guide itself. (I liked the way you presented it as if written then--even using an old word like "rooters" when appropriate.) Congratulations.

Another possible year to consider writing about might be 1948--Cleveland again, Satchel, Jackie, big changes taking place.
John Northey - Thursday, December 01 2005 @ 11:38 PM EST (#133983) #
Hey Magpie... want a real challenge and a weird year go for 1899 - the last year the NL was king (the AL didn't become 'major league' until 1901 but was kicking in 1900). 12 teams, well 11 plus the Cleveland Spiders who had a .130 winning percentage (equivalent to a team today going 21-141). Brooklyn was the best team in baseball. Freeman hitting 25 home runs, more than double anyone else (must be a story there). McGraw with his .547 OBP. Bid McPhee was the oldest player and he retired at the end of the season, destined to finally make the HOF in 2000. Could be a very depressing year to write about, what with 4 teams folding and, of course, the Spiders. I think there was a gambling issue that year too but cannot recall for certain. Top minor leagues would've been about the same level as the NL too, so that could be interesting to dig into. Hmm. If only I had time to do some research...

More recent seasons, like 1978, are still too clear in our memories and have been written far too much about (OK, I'm a bit sick of the NY/Boston stories after 2004) imo. Of course, given how good a job you did with 1920 I'd love to see what you'd do with just about any season.
Mike Green - Friday, December 02 2005 @ 05:11 PM EST (#134078) #
It might seem churlish to bring this up after such a wonderful and uplifting piece, but it is a little ironic that Joe Sewell ended up in the Hall of Fame, and Ray Chapman did not. I am not going to argue that this is an injustice. They were comparable hitters, and Chapman had the better glove, but, alas, the shorter career.
Poincare - Monday, December 05 2005 @ 03:24 AM EST (#134233) #

Without any exaggeration I think your piece here is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. It is extraordinarily well-written, historically accurate, informative, engaging, intellectually stimulating, and more. I am really looking forward to reading more of your work.

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