Mathewson’s Monumental Marvel

The New York Giants sure had a swell season in 1905.

Actually, it was tremendous. And the way it ended was ridiculous. Many modern glory stories are made of the Madison Bumgarners, Clayton Kershaws and Corey Klubers of the baseball world who throw key postseason innings on short rest. Rightfully so, of course. But what happened at the end of this particular season of a bygone era, if you frame it by today’s standards, is truly amazing.

The feisty John McGraw led his club to a staggering 105-48 mark on the ’05 season, including an all-too-brief but now-famous appearance in a June 29 game in Brooklyn by a young outfielder named Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. The Giants’ season ended, of course, by capturing the National League pennant and then drubbing Connie Mack’s powerful Philadelphia A’s four games to one in the second ever World Series. But what makes this series so interesting 111 years later is it featured the single most incredible performance by a starting pitcher we may ever see. His name was Christy Mathewson.

Image result for christy mathewson 1905
The great Christy Mathewson, 1905

Pitching was the name of the game in the deadball era, and 1905 saw a slew of it, especially on the Giants. This was a starting rotation so strong that the number five hurler, lefty Hooks Wiltse, compiled a 15-6 record with a 2.47 ERA in 197 innings, with 18 complete games and a WHIP of just over 1. Today, such numbers would put a pitcher squarely in the Cy Young Award conversation. Back then, it was considered no more than “pretty good.” Of course, Wiltse’s season numbers paled in comparison to Mathewson’s who went 31-9 with a 1.28 ERA, and tossed a mammoth 338 innings while completing 32 of 37 games started. And that’s not even the ridiculous part. That would come in the World Series.

“Mathewson pitched against Cincinnati yesterday. Another way of putting it is that Cincinnati lost a game of baseball. The first statement means the same as the second.”

– Writer Damon Runyan

Mathewson was completely untouchable in Games 1 and 3 of the Fall Classic, blanking the Athletics 3-0 and 9-0 with just three days separating the two shutouts, and he wasn’t done there. With the A’s on the verge of defeat, Mathewson took the bump again in Game 5 on two days’ rest and slung another shutout, goose-egging Mack’s men 2-0 at the Polo Grounds and sending New York into a championship frenzy.

For the series, Mathewson’s totals were astonishing: 27 innings, 0 runs, 13 hits, 1 walk and 18 strikeouts. He did all this in just five days.

In any era of baseball, there has never been anything like what Mathewson did in the 1905 World Series. It was a hell of an exclamation point on an already stellar season and it’s the type of feat, especially only taking a few days to accomplish, that we’ll never see again.

 

Photo Credit: https://radbournsrevenantdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/c65ea-spchristymathewsonportrait2.jpg

Sources: http://baseballhall.org/discover/inside-pitch/christy-mathewson-throws-third-shutout

http://www.baseball-reference.com/postseason/1905_WS.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/g/grahamo01.shtml

 

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The Great Zim, Cocky Collins, and One Mad Dash For the Dish

October 15, 1917, the Polo Grounds. World Series Game 6: Chicago White Sox @ New York Giants.

The Series’ clincher for the Sox was not without some controversy, and 99 years later certain elements of one particular, pivotal play, remain in question. The play, of course being the botched rundown of Eddie Collins in the top of the fourth inning, which ended up being the winning run, and cemented Giants third baseman Heinie Zimmerman as the goat. But was that an unfair label?

Image result for heinie zimmerman 1917
Heinie Zimmerman in 1917 at the Polo Grounds

Zimmerman, a stalwart, but maligned infielder in the back nine of his career in ’17, was no stranger to implication. Throughout his 13 years in the bigs, Zimmerman was often in questionable situations of all sorts, and he earned a reputation as a ballplayer who was never quite as good as he should have been (1). His subpar play in the 1917 Series only served to fuel such talk. In six games, he batted just .120 and committed three errors, the last of which was a costly throwing error that allowed Eddie Collins to reach first base in the crucial fourth inning of game six. Collins would subsequently score the winning run on the famous chase to the plate.

The Rundown

With Collins on first, Shoeless Joe Jackson lifted a flyball toward Giants right fielder Dave Robertson, who dropped the ball, advancing Collins to third and Jackson to second. Sox slugger Happy Felsch then rapped a grounder back to pitcher Rube Benton, who wheeled and threw to Zimmerman at third, having caught Collins breaking for home. The rundown started normally, until Collins slipped past catcher Bill Rariden who was caught too far up the line. Inexplicably, neither Benton or first baseman Walter Holke was covering the plate! Zimmerman was thus forced to chase Collins all the way home. Collins, the faster runner, beat Zimmerman to the dish, giving the Sox a lead they would keep. They would go on to win the game and the World Series.

Some sources have conflicting reports on what Rariden actually did. Most agree he took at least one throw from Zimmerman, threw it back, but by then he was too far up the line and Collins ran past him. Other reports make it seem that Rariden was hardly engaged in the rundown at all, having broke far up the line immediately, leaving Zimmerman nobody to throw to from the outset. With obviously no video of this play, these details may never be fully revealed.

The snafu’d rundown, along with his lackluster play in the first five games and the key throwing error on Collins’ grounder, made Zimmerman the fall guy in New York. He would long be mentioned in the same vein as other infamous Giant goats like Fred Merkle and Fred Snodgrass, having to vehemently deny accusations that he allowed Collins to score.

Where the hell was everybody?

In that rundown situation, with the catcher and and third baseman engaged with the runner, the question becomes why didn’t either Rube Benton or Walter Holke cover the plate? There should have been at least one, if not two backups for catcher Bill Rariden, regardless of how long he stayed in the rundown, yet there were none. Once Rariden was out of the play, Zimmerman had nobody to throw to. He famously asked after the game “Who the hell was I supposed to throw to, (umpire) Bill Klem?” And Zimmerman was right. Even skipper John McGraw placed the blame on Benton and Holke for not covering the plate, but the fans and media alike would continue to assault Zimmerman for the broken play, no doubt aided by his poor series, crucial error early in the inning, and a string of insinuation and questionable actions throughout his career.

The eyebrow-raising  would continue for Zimmerman the next two years, especially after first baseman and master game-fixer Hal Chase, formerly of the Cincinnati Reds, would join the Giants in 1919. McGraw, taking a gamble (no pun intended), on signing Chase in an effort to straighten him out would see the plan backfire as Chase and Zimmerman would form a potent betting duo. A grand jury was convened to investigate gambling in baseball in 1920, and McGraw and other Giants players would testify to Zimmerman and Chase’s agendas for fixing games in 1919. In the wake of the famous Black Sox scandal that season, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis would ban both Zimmerman and Chase from the game (2).

The sad tale of Heinie Zimmerman remains an interesting piece of baseball history. For although his reputation of never fulfilling his great potential drew the ire of fans and reporters, and his sidekicking with Hal Chase surely sealed his fate, he should not be to blame for the ’17 Series. He made the only play he could’ve made. The extenuating circumstances surrounding him and that series unfortunately made him the goat.

Unfairly.

 

Photo Credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/bf/Heinie_Zimmerman.jpg/220px-Heinie_Zimmerman.jpg

Sources:

http://www.thisgreatgame.com/1917-baseball-history.html

http://www.baseballhistorycomesalive.com/heinie-zimmerman-chases-eddie-collins-across-the-plate-in-the-1917-world-series/

(2) http://z.lee28.tripod.com/therest/heiniezimmerman.html

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NY1/NY1191710150.shtml

(1) http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/e73e465a