The Curious Case of Gentleman George

George Sisler is a name seldom brought up when discussing the greatest ballplayers of all time. Given his career accolades and Hall of Fame status, that’s an injustice.

Image result for George Sisler

“Gentleman George”, also nicknamed “Gorgeous George”, was unquestionably the greatest player in St. Louis Browns history, and one of the games first truly elite first basemen. A quantifiable five-tool player, Sisler would play 12 of his 15 MLB seasons with the Browns, ending with a brief cup of coffee in Washington before finishing his career playing for three seasons with the Boston Braves. In that time, Sisler amassed a lifetime batting average of .340, good for 17th all time. Within that span, he would enjoy a mammoth 1920 campaign in which he hit .407 with 257 hits, a record that would last for 84 years.

As if that wasn’t enough, in 1922, Gentleman George would hit a whopping .420, while leading the league in hits, triples, stolen bases and runs scored. For his career, Sisler hit over .300 in 13 of his 15 seasons, over .350 five times, and over .400 twice. His offensive prowess, along with his base stealing ability and defensive wizardry that garnered him much comparison to the great Hal Chase, earned Sisler a rightful place on the stage at the inaugural induction ceremony in Cooperstown in 1939.

But like some other stars that rose through the deadball era, Gentleman George began his big league life as a pitcher. Albeit a short lived stint on the bump, Sisler did enjoy one or two grand accomplishments.

After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1915 (an extremely rare occurrence for ballplayers in that era), Sisler joined Branch Rickey’s Browns staff and posted a 4-4 mark with a 2.85 ERA in 15 games, a very strong body of work for a rookie on a second tier team. The highlight of those, and one that Sisler himself referred to as his “greatest thrill in baseball”, was a 2-1 complete game victory in which he out-dueled the great Walter Johnson. The game, in which George limited the Senators to six hits while striking out three, effectively was saved in the eighth inning by perfect execution of the infamous hidden ball trick. Ray Morgan opened the Senators’ eighth reaching on an error by shortstop Doc Lavin. Skipper Clark Griffith inserted Horace Milan as a pinch runner, who was then sacrificed over to second. On the bunt, Browns second baseman Del Pratt covered first, and after securing the putout, quickly tucked the ball under his right arm, unseen by everyone except Sisler. Moving about the hill in faux-preparedness to pitch to the next batter, Milan began his leadoff from second, when Pratt dove toward him with the ball. Umpire Billy Evans ruled the out and the Washington rally was stopped. Sisler would then finish them off in the ninth for the win.

Image result for George Sisler

Shortly thereafter, Sisler’s bat and glove were proving more valuable than his pitching arm, and so a few random appearances on the bump notwithstanding, he would be an every day position player instead, a path that would end in the Hall of Fame.

A year later however, in his second-to-last career start, Sisler would ironically again go up against Walter Johnson. On September 17, 1916, the two would square off at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, and again it would be Gentleman George with the upper hand, shutting out Johnson and the Senators 1-0. Sisler would go the distance, allowing six hits and striking out six for the final victory of his pitching career.

In 111 career innings, Sisler would run up a 5-6 total record, with an ERA of 2.35 and a 1.2 WHIP. While not staggering, and certainly nowhere near the echelons of his offensive numbers, this snapshot proves that he was more than capable of being an effective pitcher.

Due to often being on second division teams and having never played in a World Series, George Sisler is often overlooked and rarely discussed. While his Hall of Fame numbers as a first baseman are forever impressive, he did enjoy a few shining moments as a hurler as well.

 

Sources:  https://books.google.com/books?id=jlDWBgAAQBAJ&pg=PA70&lpg=PA70&dq=Browns+Senators+Hidden+Ball+Trick+1915&source=bl&ots=dGdDK-vRMi&sig=7uIqRXW5p59q65bUmxwNM5zdCRo&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi1sYOTr6zWAhWL64MKHWQeAwIQ6AEIJjAA#v=onepage&q=Browns%20Senators%20Hidden%20Ball%20Trick%201915&f=false

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/sislege01.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SLA/SLA191508290.shtml

http://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/past-inductions/1936-1939

http://baseballhall.org/hof/sisler-george

https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/f67a9d5c

 

Photo credit(s): https://www.cmgww.com/baseball/sisler/

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiivYiMv6zWAhUV84MKHVD7Bl8QjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.geni.com%2Fpeople%2FGeorge-Sisler%2F6000000013632814363&psig=AFQjCNEaS0rFV3P3T8xk8vpCNCzHe826KA&ust=1505746938386185

 

 

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Rare Thievery For Shoeless Joe In Cleveland

Joseph Jefferson “Shoeless Joe” Jackson had many accolades in his 13-year MLB career.

His baseball life, although lengthy by deadball-era standards, was nonetheless sadly shortened for his role in throwing the World Series in 1919. Still, Jackson amassed a lofty .356 lifetime batting average, having never hit below .308 in any full-time season, a truly remarkable feat.

1912 was no different, really, in terms of being remarkable. Yet amid all the sensations Jackson would showcase before and after this season, one gem of a game is often overlooked.

Jackson had a fantastic .395/.458/.579 slash line for the 1912 season, to go along with 121 runs scored, nearly twice as much as the next highest player for the 5th place Cleveland Naps (Indians.) He would also swipe 35 bases that year to easily lead the team. On August 11th, in an 8-3 victory at League Park over the visiting New York Highlanders (Yankees), Jackson would take four bases and score twice in the game. That he totaled up those numbers is not surprising, but how he did it, is.

Shoeless Joe Jackson by Conlon, 1913.jpeg
Shoeless Joe during his playing days with Cleveland

In the first inning, Jackson would keep his name in the discussion with the great Ty Cobb as being one of the few who could confidently steal home successfully. But Jackson wasn’t done yet. In the seventh, Shoeless Joe would achieve the rare stolen base cycle, swapping second, third and then home, in succession, in the same inning. At the time, Jackson was just the fifth player in MLB history to steal home twice in the same game, and even today he remains just one of eleven players ever to accomplish the sterling feat. That he did so while also stealing all three bases in the same inning makes this event stand out.

No player has stolen home twice in the same game since Vic Power pulled it off on August 14, 1958, ironically also while playing for the Indians, at home, and 46 years nearly to the day since Jackson’s marvel.

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Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Sam Crawford in 1912

While only eleven players have stolen home twice in the same game, swapping all three bases in the same inning is essentially equally as rare. To date, stealing all three bases in the same inning has happened just 50 times in baseball history. The most recent occurrence was by Dee Gordon on July 1, 2011 while playing for the Dodgers against the Angels in Anaheim. Pete Rose also did it in 1980, but before that nobody had done so since Harvey Kendrick in 1928. Some just players breathe rarefied air, even for one inning.

Nobody would ever consider stealing home twice in a game, or swapping all three bags in the same inning easy or commonplace, but don’t say that to Ty Cobb or Honus Wagner, as each man had a stolen base cycle in the same inning an astonishing four times in their careers. But for Jackson, stealing home twice and capturing all three bags in the same inning, both in the same game, was a phenomenal accomplishment.

 

Sources: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/feats/stealing_second_third_home.shtml

https://www.baseball-fever.com/forum/general-baseball/trivia/80231-i-stole-home-twice

https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CLE/1912.shtml

Photo Credits: http://www.blackbetsy.com/photosTheClevelandYears.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoeless_Joe_Jackson

 

The Brakeman

One of the overarching and never underestimated compliments of most early deadball-era pitchers (to me anyway), is that they were indestructible. That is, their arms were. A quick glance at the stats of late 19th/early 20th century legends like Cy Young, Pud Galvin, Old Hoss Radbourn and Cannonball Crane among others reveal some hysterical numbers in terms of innings pitched, games started, and complete games.

One of these dapper gents however, achieved a completely asinine feat that the rest did not: He threw 185 consecutive complete games.

Jack Taylor began his pro career in 1897 with the Milwaukee Brewers of the old Western League, a team managed by the great future Hall of Famer, Connie Mack. He broke into the bigs in 1898 after the Chicago Orphans (Cubs) purchased his contract later in the ’98 season where he remained until 1903. On June 20, 1901, Taylor took the loss in a complete-game performance against the Beaneaters (later the Braves) at the South End Grounds in Boston. This game would be the catalyst for nearly five years’ worth of completing every game he started.

Nicknamed “Brakeman Jack” for his occupation in the offseason, Taylor was a non-flashy, but tough-as-nails righty from Straitsville, Ohio.  His breakout season came in 1902 where he compiled a 23-11 mark with a sizzling 1.29 ERA, along with 34 complete games in 34 starts and was the league leader in ERA, WHIP (0.953) and shutouts (8.) After the regular season ended, the Cubs and crosstown rival White Sox engaged in an exhibition “City Series”, something that would become a Chicago tradition for many years. In this particular series, Taylor was accused of throwing a game to the Sox. Though nothing was ever proven, he was nonetheless traded during the winter of 1903 to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Brakeman was dealt along with Larry McLean for Jack O’Neill and a young, unproven and undervalued pitcher named Mordecai Brown. At the time, it seemed the Cardinals’ got the better half of the deal, but not long afterward that table turned as “Three Finger” Brown would go on to a Hall of Fame career with the Cubs and locked his own valued place in baseball lore.

Image result for Jack Taylor 1902

Meanwhile, Brakeman Jack’s complete game streak continued with the Cardinals, sealing up 39 of them to lead the league, along with 20 victories in 1904. Amid repeated accusations of throwing games, none of which were proven, Taylor became a fairly hot commodity. In 1906 he was traded back to the Cubs, and the timing couldn’t have been better, as there he joined an outstanding, now-famous pitching staff led by Brown, along with Orval Overall, Carl Lundgren, Jack Pfiester, and Ed Reulbach. The Brakeman added in his own 12-3 mark on the season, but ended his complete game streak at 185, after “only” completing 15 of 16 games that year. His ERA was a stellar 1.83 and a factor in the Cubs’ team ERA, which ended with an unheard of mark of 1.76 for the season. The Cubs would reach the World Series, but ironically fall to the crosstown White Sox, where the famed “Hitless Wonders” would do enough damage to the elite Cubs pitching staff to take the title. A year later, Taylor helped the northsiders back to the World Series, this time emerging as world champs after defeating the Detroit Tigers. 1907 would be Taylor’s final big league season, though he would bounce around in the minor leagues for several more years before finally hanging up his cleats in 1913. He returned to Ohio, worked as a miner, and died there in 1938.

For his career, Brakeman Jack Taylor would amass a 152-139 record, to go along with a career ERA of 2.65. Certainly nothing to scoff at there, but when you factor in his 2,626 innings and 20 shutouts, it’s hard not to consider Taylor among the elite, if certainly overlooked hurlers of the early deadball-era. The most impressive mark of course, being his MLB-record 185 consecutive complete games. That is absolutely crazy to conceive, in any era of baseball.

They sure don’t make ’em like that anymore, folks.

 

Sources: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/t/tayloja02.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Jack_Taylor_(tayloja02)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Taylor_(1900s_pitcher)

http://charlesapril.com/2009/08/closer-look-jack-taylors-complete-game.html

 

Photo Credits: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/t/tayloja02.shtml

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Taylor_(1900s_pitcher)

The Greatest College Baseball Game Ever Played

Game seven of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians may go down as the greatest major league baseball game, or at least greatest game seven, of all time. The two thousand-plus inning exhibition game between the Cubs and all-stars from the Iowa Baseball Confederacy in 1908 in W.P. Kinsella’s The Iowa Baseball Confederacy is doubtless the greatest fictional baseball game of all time.

So what about the best game ever in college ball? Well, there certainly is one.

New Haven, Connecticut. Yale Field. May 21, 1981. NCAA Northeast Regional, first round.

Future MLB star hurlers Ron Darling of Yale, and St. John’s’ Frank Viola would square off in a pitchers duel reminiscent of  many deadball-era gems of several decades prior. Many of the game’s 2,000 spectators hung around the ballpark for the second game of the NCAA Regional doubleheader, hoping for a better contest than the earlier 10-2 drubbing of Central Michigan at the hands of Maine. They had no idea what they were in for.

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Ron Darling, Yale 1981

Darling and Viola were deadlocked in a scoreless game in the ninth inning. Moreover, Darling had yet to give up a hit and no runner had reached third base. As the game entered extra innings, both pitchers’ pitch counts were skryocketing into the 170’s, but it had no effect on either arm. St. John’s catcher Don Giordano marveled at the movement that Darling had on his pitches all game long. “An unbelievable slider that broke like nothing any of us were accustomed to seeing,” Giordano said.

Yale managed to scatter several runners throughout the game, but Viola, dominant in his own right for the Redmen, held them scoreless. Darling was just a tick better however, taking his no-hit sensation into the 12th inning.

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Frank Viola, St. John’s 1981

Stephen Scafa led off the top of the 12th for St. John’s and managed to muscle a soft liner off his hands into left field, ending the no-hitter by Darling. Everyone at the ballpark, including, in a great show of sportsmanship, the entire St. John’s team, gave Darling a standing ovation. “I’ll never forget this as long as I live: The St. John’s team came up to the top step of the dugout and gave me a standing ovation,” Darling said during a 30th-anniversary of the game in 2011. Even in the midst of a great battle, monumental moments are respected by those who respect the game.

The speedy Scafa, always a base-stealing threat, immediately swiped second.

Giordana then reached on an error by Yale shortstop Bob Brooke to put runners at the corners. Thomas Covino came in to pinch-run, and the Redmen called a double-steal on the very next pitch. Darling stumbled coming off the mound and thus could not cut off the throw, which went to second. Scafa froze at third while Covina got caught in a rundown. At the moment the ball was thrown to first, Scafa broke for home, sliding in safely to give St. John’s a 1-0 lead they would not relinquish.

Yale was unable to score in the bottom of the 12th against St. John’s closer Eric Stamphl and the game ended.

In a performance that would make Walter Johnson proud, Darling went the distance in the 1-0 loss, allowing just one hit and striking out 16. Viola twirled a gem of his own, scattering seven hits over 11 scoreless innings. The fans at Yale Field that day saw the greatest college baseball game ever played. A timeless pitchers duel that lasted three extra frames and was decided on a gutsy (and brilliant), display of smallball at the most opportune time.

It was the greatest spectacle of sport and strategy at the NCAA level, and 36 years later has yet to be outdone. It may never be.

‘Tis a strange and wonderful game, that baseball…

 

Sources: http://www.nationalpastime.com

Photo Credits: http://www.yalebulldogs.com/sports/m-basebl/2014-15/releases/20150227l81ndr

Historic Yale Field is Marking the 35th Anniversary of “The Greatest College Baseball Game Ever Played”

 

Phantom First Basemen: Elite Company

Baseball, as we all know, is a game full of bizarre and bewildering situations. Many are often forgotten, or only briefly remarked upon by way of a footnote in a long-overlooked box score, or a mention from a researcher on one of those “On this day…” articles. Such was the case today, when glossing over http://www.nationalpastime.com I noticed a remarkable stat that occurred on this date 87 years ago. Looking a bit further into it, I was reminded of a very small handful of times where a team could have actually won a game without their first baseman.

On April 27, 1930, the Chicago White Sox defeated the St. Louis Browns 2-1 at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. The lone oddity of this game, was that White Sox first baseman Bud Clancy played all nine innings without recording a single putout, becoming the first player in modern baseball history to do so. (A.B. McCauley first accomplished the feat in 1891 while playing for the Washington Statesmen of the old American Association.) The Odell, Illinois native would have a largely vanilla nine-year major league career, mostly as a backup. Though he would end up with a solid .281 career batting average, he is most remembered for this strange day early in the ’30 season.

Image result for Bud Clancy no putouts

Wait. Is it considered a feat if a player technically does nothing?

What if he does it, er, nothing, twice?

Such was the case several years later for James Anthony “Ripper” Collins. A very good player by all accounts, Collins was late to the game, toiling in the minors for several years in the 1920’s and breaking into the majors in 1931 with the St. Louis Cardinals. He would have a breakout year in 1934, tying the great Mel Ott for the league lead in home runs with 35, and helping the famed Gashouse Gang of St. Louis to win the World Series. A year later on August 21, 1935, Collins would join Clancy when he would play all nine innings in a 13-3 win against the Braves in Boston, recording zero putouts. Two years later after having been traded to the Cubs, Collins would do it again. On June 29, 1937 in a game, ironically against the Cardinals at Sportsman’s Park, Collins and the Cubs would enjoy an 11-9 victory including zero putouts from the first baseman.

Image result for Ripper Collins

The strange occurrence would happen again nearly 40 years later, as Oakland’s Gene Tenace would join the Clancy/Collins ranks. On September 1, 1974 while playing with the World Series champion Oakland Athletics, Tenace would “help” his team earn a 5-3 win over Detroit at Tiger Stadium with no participation defensively from himself.

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Gene Tenace, 1974

Fast forward another 41 years to July 5, 2015, and Red Sox slugger David Ortiz joined the list. In his first start at first base at Fenway Park in over nine years, Ortiz does not record a putout, though he did get an assist in the Sox’ 5-4 win over Houston.

Image result for David Ortiz first base
Big Papi July 5, 2015

Just four first basemen in the modern history of the game to essentially do nothing defensively to him his team win. Rare and odd, but evidently not impossible. It’s a strange game after all…

 

Photo Credits: http://sox.createaforum.com/general-discussion/pale-hose-history/3175/

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=colliri02

https://alchetron.com/Gene-Tenace-850985-W

http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/red_sox/2016/08/red_sox_notebook_david_ortiz_to_start_at_first_base

Sources: http://nationalpastime.com/

https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/95982dfa

http://www.southsidesox.com/2015/12/29/10680878/white-sox-feats-of-strength-bud-clancys-zero-chance-game

https://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/mlb-big-league-stew/david-ortiz-did-something-no-red-sox-first-baseman-has-ever-done-004547771.html

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/colliri02.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/clancbu01.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/WAS/1891.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/STL/1935-schedule-scores.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CHC/1937-schedule-scores.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/OAK/1974-schedule-scores.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS201507050.shtml

First Time For Everything; Three Times In One Game

They say lightning never strikes the same place twice. There’s also a first time for everything. But how often does a first time for something happen at the same place, at the same time, three times?

In Game Five of the 1920 World Series, that’s exactly what occurred.

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1920 World Series program from Brooklyn

The Cleveland Indians and Brooklyn Robins (aka Dodgers) were locked in what was sure to go down as a phenomenal best-of-nine, if the first four tightly contested games were any indication. With the Series tied at two games apiece, Cleveland sent Jim Bagby to the mound against Brooklyn spitballer Burleigh Grimes, who blanked the Indians 3-0 in Game Two.

An overflow crowd filled League Park in Cleveland for the contest, with temporary bleachers added to right and center fields, increasing the capacity for the game but also shortening the distance to those fences. After completing his warmup, Bagby sat in the Cleveland dugout, when player-manager and future hall of famer Tris Speaker began going over the lineup with his pitcher. After a few minutes sitting in silence and seemingly staring off to nowhere, Bagby spoke up.

“I think I’ll bust one out to those wooden seats. They seem just about right for me to hit.”

Speaker ambled away.

Bagby got through the top of the first inning with a harmless single being the only damage. It was then that the Indians jumped right on Grimes, a stark turnaround from his untouchable performance just a few days prior. Three straight singles by Charlie Jamieson, Bill “Wamby” Wambsgannss and the great Tris Speaker loaded the bases for Elmer Smith with nobody out. On a 1-2 count, Smith drilled a Grimes junkball deep over the right field fence for a grand slam, the first in Series history.

It was the kickstart to one of the most sensational World Series games of all time.

In the bottom of the fourth, still leading 4-0 and with two men on, Bagby stepped to the plate. It was time to deliver on his pregame prophecy to Speaker. Deliver he did, as he crushed a hung pitch from Grimes into the temporary bleachers in right-center, giving the Indians a 7-0 lead and chasing Grimes from the game. It was the first ever home run by a pitcher in World Series play.

Those two accolades apparently were not enough on this day, however, as the most spectacular would happen half an inning later.

Brooklyn would start the top of the fifth with two straight singles by Pete Kilduff and Otto Miller. This brought up Clarence Mitchell, a solid-hitting pitcher who replaced Grimes the inning before. Cleveland second baseman Bill Wambsganns played deep against Mitchell, a left-handed hitter with a tendency to pull the ball. On a 1-1 count, Mitchell lined the ball up the middle toward second base. Wamby, in decent position, made a break for the ball but it seemed to be a sure single. Kilduff and Miller raced out immediately, thinking the ball would get through, but Wamby was able to snowcone the ball on the fly for the first out. With his momentum carrying him right toward the bag, he stepped on second base for out number two, doubling up Kilduff who was unable to tag. Turning to his left, Wamby saw Miller stop short of second base, dead in the water. He and everyone but Wamby was astonished that the ball had even been caught. With shouts of “tag him!” from shortstop Joe Sewell, a rookie and future hall of famer called up to replace the tragically deceased Ray Chapman, Wamby calmly applied the tag to a stunned Miller and began jogging back to the dugout. The crowd sat in stunned silence for several moments. As he got closer to the dugout, the standing-room-only throng began to cheer loudly as they realized what just happened: The first unassisted triple play in World Series history.

To this day, it’s still the only unassisted triple play in a World Series game.

Legendary writer Ring Lardner would note, with distinction, that “it was the first time in world series history that a man named Wambsganns had ever made a triple play assisted by consonants only.”

Bill “Wamby” Wambsganns, 1920. Notice the black armband, that all Cleveland players wore in honor of their teammate, Ray Chapman, who was hit in the head by a Carl Mays fastball and was killed in August of that year.

The Indians would go on to finish off the Dodgers 8-1 on this day, and then cap it off with 1-0 and 3-0 shutouts in Games Six and Seven to win the Series, five games to two.

It’s one thing to play, and win, a pivotal game in any series. But to have three specific firsts in the history of the game, one of which is the only first to date, all in the same game, is something not short of marvelous.

 

Sources:

The Pitch That Killed: The Story of Carl Mays, Ray Chapman, and the Pennant Race of 1920. Mike Sowell, New York: Macmillan, 1989.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/postseason/1920_WS.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/BRO/1920.shtml

Photo Credits: 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fc/1920_World_Series_program.jpg/800px-1920_World_Series_program.jpg

https://bill37mccurdy.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/wambsganss-05.jpg

Ruth’s Mysterious Gambit: The Final Out of the 1926 World Series

The 1927 Yankees are forever cemented in baseball lore and ingrained in the minds of devotee’s as being the best of all time. But often overlooked is the fact they were pretty good the previous year, too. That team however, had a controversial end to it’s season when the St. Louis Cardinals bested the Bronx Bombers in the 1926 World Series. The dramatic final out has been a head scratcher for 90 years.

On October 10, 1926 at Yankee Stadium, the Cardinals were hanging on to a precious 3-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth in Game Seven. The lead was stunningly preserved two innings earlier when veteran drunkard Grover Cleveland “Old Pete” Alexander, one day removed from a dazzling complete game victory in Game Six, came on in relief to strike out future hall of famer Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded. A truly pivotal moment.

Alexander remained in the game, chugging along to the ninth with the top of the Yanks’ powerful order coming up and 38,000-plus at Yankee Stadium hoping for some heroics. Old Pete forced both Earle Combs and Mark Koenig into groundouts, bringing up Babe Ruth with two outs and nobody on. On a 3-2 pitch, Ruth walked, which sent slugger Bob Muesel to the plate with the great Lou Gehrig on deck and Lazzeri in the hole, the perfect combination to tie or win the game. Suddenly, Ruth broke for second in an attempted two-out delayed steal, where upon a laser-perfect throw from catcher Bob O’Farrell (NL MVP in 1926) to Rogers Hornsby, ‘ol Jidge was tagged out, ending the game and series. The questions that this attempted steal raise, aside from the why, are many:

Was Ruth just being aggressive? He did steal on O’Farrell the day before after all, but why this particular two-out gamble with the heart of your order up? Was it a hit-and-run? Some accounts say it was, though neither Ruth, Muesel, or manager Miller Huggins ever fully confirmed this. Did Ruth not have confidence in Muesel to knock one in the gap or out of the park? This is possible, since Bob was known to have dips in confidence. On top of that his two costly misplays in the fourth inning, including a dropped routine fly, directly led to all three Cardinals runs in the game. These things, combined with his struggles at the plate no doubt put great strain on him in that situation. Knowing this, perhaps Ruth wanted to put the pressure on himself? If so, it was a very selfless, yet risky, ploy. Or was it something else?

Rogers Hornsby tags out Babe Ruth at second base for the final out of the 1926 World Series
No accusations are being made here, but one more thing needs to be considered in order to properly frame this situation. Rumors were rampant in those days, so it should be no surprise that it has been suggested that Muesel (and perhaps even Ruth?) had been approached by, or accepted payoffs from gamblers prior to the series. If he was in on the take, this could lend some credence to his uncharacteristic, and timely, defensive gaffes in the game. In addition, famous betting ringleader Sport Sullivan, a key player in the fixing of the 1919 World Series was in attendance that day. His presence roused further suspicions, and he was later removed by AL President Ban Johnson.

Gambling was, of course, all the talk of baseball in those days. Just five years removed from the infamous eight members of the White Sox being banned from the game, and amid a flurry of fresh accusations that superstars Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Smoky Joe Wood had fixed games back in September 1919, it’s not unrealistic to imagine players were approached about not playing this particular game on the level. The evidence against Cobb and Speaker became so damning in fact, that just weeks after the ’26 series ended, they both retired at the urging of Johnson before the story really broke and destroyed two hall of fame careers. The Cobb/Speaker ultimatum was the design of both Johnson and Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. As baseball itself was “on trial” for most of the 1920’s, it would’ve been crushing, perhaps even lethal for the game if two of it’s megastars were found to be fixing and betting on games. Landis knew this, and promptly backed off. Historian Glenn Stout compared Landis’ actions in this case to a seamstress pulling a single thread, only to discover she’s unraveling the whole garment. Both Cobb and Speaker would ultimately return the following year with the Athletics and Senators, respectively, in player-coach roles. They would be united in 1928 with the A’s before retiring permanently, but their presence for that one season helped shape a powerhouse team, as Connie Mack’s A’s would win the World Series in 1929 and 1930. 

Their situation, although having no direct involvement with the ’26 Series, is nonetheless important to consider because it was part of the baseball landscape of the time. If two of the game’s most heralded stars could be involved with betting activity, not to mention what happened with the Black Sox, then so could anyone, including Bob Muesel or even the great Babe Ruth.

Conclusions? There really are none that are concrete. Like so many great or tragic situations in baseball history, the further we delve into them the more questions arise. Was Ruth just trying to put the game on his shoulders?  Did Huggins employ a gutsy hit-and-run that failed? Was it just an unbeatable throw by O’Farrell? Were there outside factors that got to Muesel and possibly Ruth that affected the outcome of the game? We’ll sadly never fully know…

 

Sources: Tris Speaker: The Rough and Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend, Timothy Gay, 2007

By The Numbers: Judging Babe Ruth’s Attempted Steal In The 1926 World Series

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA192610100.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/PHA/1928.shtml

Photo Credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/68/Ruth1926-3.jpg