Some History Is Hard to Repeat

If you ask Cubs fans to describe the 2017 season, many will say, “disappointing.” Perhaps that’s because of the way the season ended, in a completely flat offensive effort in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Maybe it’s also because something just looked off about this team all year, and they never fully clicked for whatever reason.

The tunnel vision vantage point may feel somewhat bleak, but stepping back, the panoramic view is pretty damn bright.

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For if this season was “disappointing” and yet still yielded a 92-win Central Division title and a playoff run to the NLCS for the third straight year, that’s something to be pretty content with given Cubs history.

There’s that word again: History. As in, the past. As in, last year is over. As in, I think that’s where some of the fans’ disdain for how this season went down began. Here, then, is a good time to remember one of the chief lessons in baseball: No team, game, or season is ever the same.

The Plan worked. 2016 was magical. Not just because of the 108-year World Series drought ending, but in the way it happened. It was as close to an ideal season as any team could have. Literally a dream come true for long-suffering Cubs fans. In addition to having the deepest and most talented team in all of baseball, the Cubs enjoyed a red hot start that carried throughout the whole season save for a rough stretch just before the All-Star break. More importantly, this was a team with the rarity of near complete health all season save for Kyle Schwarber, who’s absence before coming back to be one of the World Series heroes was perfectly filled by the depth and flexibility of his teammates. Throw in the NL MVP, two Gold Glove winners in your starting nine, and two of the five starting pitchers in your rotation finishing second and third in Cy Young Award voting, and you have a recipe for a Championship season. And so it was done. (Not without three exciting series’ in the playoffs capped off by the greatest Game Seven of all time of course, but that’s another story altogether.)

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2016 was as close to perfect as it gets. 2017 was not. And that’s ok.

For whatever reason, this year’s team stumbled early and often. The starting pitching wasn’t nearly as sharp, many bats slumped at once, there was a rash of injuries to several key players who missed significant time, the bullpen didn’t always hold serve and the platinum defense of 2016 regressed significantly. It took until after the All Star break for something to finally set right with this group, when they emerged from 5.5 games back on July 15 to win the division at the end of September. But still, something just didn’t look right.

There were notable offensive quirks by many players throughout the year. Kris Bryant hit .295 with 29 homers but only drove in 74 runs. Kyle Schwarber knocked out 30, but only hit .211 and that was due to a surge after coming back from the minors where he was sent after a couple months of living far below the Mendoza line. Addison Russell wasn’t the same, missed time with an injury and didn’t duplicate his production from the year before. Stalwart veteran Ben Zobrist had his struggles, and battled his health all season. Willson Contreras was having a monster year before being sidelined on the DL. Jason Heyward, under much scrutiny after a dreadful ’16, actually managed to hit 30 points higher and improved across the board in every offensive category, and yet still didn’t really pass the eye test and was benched for the second straight year in the playoffs for lack of production. Not that it was just him though, the entire team went flat against the Dodgers, losing four games to one and scoring only eight runs in the five games, all on home runs. The book was closed on 2017 with a major ebb, after not a lot of flow.

As I sit here writing this and listening to the excellent (and in context, very atmospheric) Pearl Jam – Let’s Play Two: Live At Wrigley Field record, I perhaps should be disappointed in the way this season ended, but I’m really not. In fact, I’m encouraged. For a team that battled through a lot of injuries, inconsistent play, individual struggles, and balls-to-the-wall competition in the division from the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals (and earlier, the Pittsburgh Pirates), and still emerge with a third straight trip to the NLCS…well, its something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. So really, 2017 wasn’t all that bad.

Granted, I’d be furious right now had 2016 not happened. In fact, I might start to believe that it never would happen.

In some ways, 2017 sort of felt like playing on house money. Sure I was hoping for a repeat, but baseball is the hardest sport to land a consecutive championship, so expecting one was a little unrealistic, even with the bulk of the 2016 team still here. The good thing however, was there was no pressure anymore. For all of the erroneous Curse believers, it was gone. Mission accomplished, and now we as fans could focus on the present and no longer the forlorn barrage of “what ifs” and “there’s always next year’s.” Cubs fans expect to win now, and make deep playoff runs, and for the third straight year, that’s what happened. Now this team can gear up for 2018 with a renewed focus, new faces on the roster and on the coaching staff (following the firing of pitching coach Chris Bosio yesterday), and perhaps a sense of unfinished business too.

Just remember, no team, game, or season is ever the same.

Four months until Spring Training…

Image result for Pearl Jam Let's Play Two

 

Sources: https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CHC/2017.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CHC/2016.shtml

 

Photo Credits: http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/baseball/cubs/ct-cubs-game-7-world-series-tv-ratings-20161103-story.html

http://m.mlb.com/cubs/tickets/info/cubs-destinations-wrigley-field-trips

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjXwOWCuYTXAhWI8oMKHV7cAL8QjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.showclix.com%2Fevent%2Fpearl-jam-lets-play-two87812744294032&psig=AOvVaw0xrtS0fXRSbJPjz-8UVSoy&ust=1508769092530088

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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.

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“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.

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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

 

 

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 players just 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