The Chicago White Sox enjoyed a banner season in 1917, one of the best in franchise history.
The pale hosers from the south side led the league in attendance, finished with a sterling record of 100-54 to take the American League pennant, and then went on to defeat the powerful New York Giants four games to two in the World Series.
But it was a rather rocky start for Commy’s crew when they found themselves with just an 11-10 mark on May 6, two and a half games back early in a season that was rife with promise.
Worse yet, the formidable White Sox batsmen had just been inexplicably no-hit for the second consecutive day by the St. Louis Browns.
Sox skipper Clarence “Pants” Rowland took his squad southwest on what was originally a four-game series at venerable Sportsman’s Park against the Browns, but the Saturday-Wednesday tilt was extended to six games to make up for two earlier rainouts. As such, doubleheaders were played on Sunday and Tuesday.
The series opened on Saturday, May 5th with a little slap of controversy. Famed Sox hurler Eddie Cicotte took the bump against Ernie Koob, a young lefty from Michigan who only played four major league seasons, though he generated a solid 3.13 lifetime ERA. The next day’s Chicago Tribune erroneously printed a headline stating the Sox were one-hit, the result of the official scorer at Sportsman’s Park initially recording a hit on what seemed like an obvious error in the opening frame.
With one out in the top of the first, White Sox third baseman Buck Weaver smacked a grounder toward Browns second baseman Ernie Johnson. The 29-year old, who came up with the White Sox in 1912 and would re-join them from 1921-23, was making his first Browns start for the nicked up Del Pratt, considered among the best second-sackers in the American League. Johnson played a bad hop in the muddy field correctly, keeping the ball in front of him with plenty of time to get Weaver at first. But the mucked-up ball slipped from his hand on the attempted throw to hall of fame first baseman George Sisler, and rolled behind him – a clear error. How anyone could have thought otherwise is a mystery, but somehow the recorded play was confused, ruled a hit, and newspaper accounts followed. After the game, the official scorer, John Sheridan, sought input from the umpires, coaches and some players. The majority felt the play was in fact an error, and the official record was changed. This prompted the Baseball Writers Association of America to file a protest with both leagues, and set forth a mandate that the official scorer cannot reverse a decision unless a clear violation of the rules was evident.
In the end, the reversed ruling stood. Cicotte battled to the distance, allowing just five hits and striking out three in the effort. Koob out-dueled the would-have-been hall of famer though, and his gem became the first Browns no-hitter at Sportsman’s Park.
As the inaccurate headline landed on doorsteps in Chicago on Sunday, May 6, the first of two doubleheaders in the Sox/Browns extended series was getting underway in the ‘Lou.
In the first game, the St. Louis offense peppered Sox starter Reb Russel for five runs in 3.2 innings and never looked back. Though the Sox would do some makeup damage against Browns pitcher Allan Sothoron, the gap couldn’t be closed and St. Louis wound up 8-4 victors. Bob Groom grabbed the six-out save for Fielder Jones’ Brownies, throwing two innings of no-hit ball.
He wasn’t done yet – not by a long shot.
The Belleville, Illinois native had a fair 10-year career, all in the American League with the Senators, Browns and Indians, except for a two-year stint with the short-lived Federal League’s St. Louis Terriers. The career 119-game winner compiled a 3.10 ERA with 157 complete games in 288 starts – nothing to scoff at.
Groom took the mound in game two, and picked up right where he left off in the opener, going the distance in a 3-0 no-hitter while striking out four.
Opposing him was Joe Benz of the White Sox, a veteran back end righty who only appeared in 19 games in the ’17 season. Benz was stout on this day though, going the full contest, but allowing three earned runs on eight scattered hits.
For Groom, the 11 innings of no-hit ball on the same day was a career highlight, adding to the oddity of no-hitting the potent White Sox twice on consecutive days.
The decent spring start for the Browns wouldn’t last though, as they trudged to a 57-97 record, good for seventh place in the eight-team American League.
The Sox on the other hand, bounced back rather quickly, taking the next three games in the series to be a little brighter-eyed at 14-10 and just 1.5 games back. They would race on from there to the century mark in wins, capturing the flag and then a ring at season’s end.