1908: The Series

October 22, 2018

“Circus” Solly Hofman

Things have been a little goofy around here lately. I’ve been out-of-town and out of sorts for a while, so I’m a little behind on my 110 year later look at the 1908 season. But here’s a quick look at the World Series that season.

Because of the short distance between Detroit and Chicago, the 1908 World Series was played on consecutive days from 10 October through 14 October. The games rotated between cities with Detroit getting the odd-numbered games and Chicago the even numbers.

The Cubs were defending champions led by the celebrated (and probably overrated) trio of Joe Tinker to Johnny Evers to Frank Chance with Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown as the staff ace. The Tigers counted with an all-star outfield of Sam Crawford and Ty Cobb with Matty McIntyre holding down the other spot in the pasture.

After the celebrated National League pennant race and the equally terrific, but less celebrated, American League race, the Series seems something of an afterthought. It went five games with Detroit winning game three only. The Cubs scored 10 and six runs in the first two games, while Detroit managed seven total. The Tigers win in game three was 8-3, then the final two games turned in more common Deadball scores of 3-0 and 2-0. Brown and Orval Overall each picked up two wins with ERA’s of 0.00 (Brown) and 0.98 (Overall) with Jack Pfiester putting up a 7.88 ERA (it shouldn’t surprise you to find out he took the Cubs only loss). For Detroit George Mullen (ERA of 0.00) got the team’s only win while ace “Wild” Bill Donovan took two losses, including game five. Among hitters, Chance hit .421 while Tinker had the only home run (game 2). Outfielder Solly Hofman (of Merkle game fame) led the team with four RBIs. For Detroit Cobb hit .368 with a team leading four RbIs, while no Tiger hit a homer.

It was a fine, if not spectacular end of a famous season. Chicago won its second consecutive World Series and its last until 2016. The Cubs would get one more chance in 1910 (against Connie Mack’s Athletics) then fade. Detroit would be back for another try in 1909. This time they would face the Pittsburgh Pirates, Honus Wagner, and a rookie named Babe Adams.

 

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1908: Game of Games

October 8, 2018

Joe Tinker

With the regular season over, the National League pennant was still undecided. The Chicago Cubs and New York Giants had identical records, but there was still one game to make up, the so-called ‘Merkle Game.” The baseball world had never seen anything like it. There were fans clamoring for tickets even after the game began. There were stories in the newspapers about possible aspect of the game. The bettors were out in force. There was an eclipse of the sun, brimstone fell from heaven. Well, maybe not an eclipse or brimstone, but to read the accounts of the day, it was close.

The game started well for New York. In the bottom of the first Cubs starter Jack Pfiester plunked Fred Tenney (playing first for New York, the position Fred Merkle played in the famous 23 September game), then walked Buck Herzog. A pick-off removed Herzog, but “Turkey” Mike Donlin doubled to score Tenney and a walk to Cy Seymour sent Pfiester to the showers. In came Cubs ace Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown. He managed to shut down the Giants without either Donlin or Seymour scoring.

Giants ace Christy Mathewson started for New York and got through the first two innings without damage. In the top of the third, Chicago shortstop Joe Tinker, who’d hit Mathewson reasonably well during the season (and had homered in the “Merkle Game.”) tripled to lead off the inning. A Johnny Kling single brought him home to tie the game. With two outs, Johnny Evers walked. Then a double by Frank “Wildfire” Schulte scored Kling and a two-run double by manager Frank Chance cleared the bases.

With the score now 4-1, Brown cruised through the sixth. In the bottom of the seventh, New York staged a mini-rally. With Art Devlin on base, Tenney lofted a long sacrifice to score the second Giants run. It was all for the Giants, as Brown held them scoreless in both the eighth and ninth innings to secure the victory and the pennant for the Cubs.

There were recriminations in New York and celebration in Chicago. For the Cubs it sent them to their third consecutive World Series. They’d won in 1907 and lost in 1906. For the Giants it was the end of a famous season. They would wait two more years before returning to the top of the National League in 1911.

 

1908: The AL Pennant

October 6, 2018

“Wahoo” Sam Crawford (note the sunglasses)

In 1908, the final day of the season was 6 October. On that date, the Detroit Tigers began the day 89-63, a half game ahead of both the White Sox and Cleveland. A Detroit win would clinch a title. As the baseball gods would have it, the Tigers played the ChiSox. Cleveland got the Browns.

The Browns dropped the game to the Naps (now the Indians) 5-1, making them 90-64 for the season. Both games were played in the Central Time Zone (St. Louis and Chicago). I was unable to find out if the Naps knew the outcome of the Chicago game before their own ended. I also couldn’t find out it the teams in Chicago knew that Cleveland won.

The Tigers sent Wild Bill Donovan to the mound to face Doc White. The game got out of hand quickly as the Tigers scored four first inning runs off the White Sox and tacked on another in the second. They added two more in the ninth to take the American League pennant 7-0. White didn’t get out of the first inning. Reliever Ed Walsh went a little more than three innings, and Frank Smith finished the game. Combined they gave up 12 hits, struck out six, and didn’t walk any. Donovan twirled a two hitter, both singles, walked three, and struck out nine. For the Tigers, Sam Crawford had four hits, one a double, and scored two runs. Ty Cobb racked up two hits, the big blow being a triple.

The final tallies for all three teams stood at 90-63 for Detroit, 90-64 for Cleveland, and 88-64 for the ChiSox. Detroit had a tie, Cleveland had three, and Chicago four. By the rules of the day, ties did not have to be made up. So the rules in play for 1908 gave the Tigers a half game lead and the pennant. That rule is different now.

In the National League it was another story. The Giants had a made up game the next day and won. That left New York at 98-55, in a dead tie with Chicago. But each team had a tie, the so-called ‘Merkle Game.” Under the earlier decision by the National League leadership, the game would be replayed 8 October.

 

1908: “The Greatest Game Ever Pitched”

October 2, 2018

Ed Walsh (left) and Addie Joss in 1908

On 2 October 1908, with both Cleveland and Chicago still alive for the American League pennant, the two teams met in Cleveland. By the time the game ended, some newspapers christened it “the greatest game ever pitched.” Over 100 years later it still has some claim to the title.

The two pitchers were twin Hall of Famers Addie Joss and Ed Walsh. Joss came into the game sporting a 23-11 record while Walsh was 39-14. Both were staff aces and each was on the verge of completing an extraordinary season.

Both men got through the first two innings without harm. In the bottom of the third Cleveland outfielder Joe Birmingham singled and stole second. Walsh, a noted spitball pitcher, uncorked one that White Sox catcher Ossie Schrecongost let slip by for a passed ball. Birmingham scampered home for the first run.

And it was to be the only run of the game. Walsh was magnificent allowing one unearned run on four hits and a walk. He struck out 15 in eight innings. But this was Joss’ masterpiece. He threw 74 total pitches, struck out three, and allowed not one Chicago runner to reach first. It was a perfect game, only the second in American League history (Cy Young had one in 1904).

For the season Walsh would win 40 games, strike out 269, have six saves, 11 shutouts, and an ERA of 1.42. All of those except the latter led the AL. With an ERA of 1.16 Joss took that title. In the modern category of WAR, Walsh ended the year at 10.0. Joss was at 8.6.

It wasn’t a deathblow to the ChiSox. They were 2.5 games back (three in the loss column) with four games to play. One more game with Cleveland was followed by a three game set against the league leading Detroit Tigers. For Cleveland it put them only a half game back of Detroit (two in the loss column). They had the one game left with Chicago then had a four game series with the St. Louis Browns. Both still had a pennant shot. For Chicago, the three games against Detroit would make or break their season.

Hooray for this Season’s Winners

October 1, 2018

A brief note to congratulate all the playoff teams. Although I always root for the Dodgers, I hope for a good postseason with lots of thrills and a quality set of games.
Congrats to the Dodgers, Brewers, Braves, Cubs, Rockies, Astros, Indians, Red Sox, Athletics, and Yankees.

1908: The End of September

September 30, 2018

Detroit’s Ty Cobb

Back in 1908, the last day of September didn’t end the baseball regular season. There were still games to play, a couple of them important, a couple of them famous. So where did the leagues stand at the end of the ninth month?

In the American League, which is frequently, and unjustly, overshadowed by the National League in 1908 the pennant was undecided. Detroit, the defending champions, had five games remaining and a half game lead on Cleveland, who had only three to go. Third place Chicago was a game and a half back also with three games to play. With five games to go, the Browns were four and a half games out and technically still alive for a tie (they were four games back in the loss column). Any of the four had a chance to claim at least a share of the pennant. Key remaining games sent Chicago against Cleveland and Detroit went to St. Louis.

The National League was equally muddled. The New York Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates were tied (the Giants were percentage points ahead) with the Chicago Cubs a half game back. New York had five games remaining, the Pirates three, and the Cubs five. The Cubs games were against Cincinnati and then a season closing game against the Pirates. Pittsburgh had the one game against Chicago after games with St. Louis. The Giants finished up against Philadelphia, Boston (today’s Braves), and Brooklyn. Hovering over it all was the tied game of 23 September between the Giants and Cubs. If it mattered for the standings, it would be replayed in the Polo Grounds in New York 8 October.

1908: “Iron Man” Reulbach

September 26, 2018

Ed Reulbach (foreground)

On the 26th of September 1908 the Cubs faced Brooklyn in a late season double-header. Fighting for a pennant, Chicago needed the wins to maintain pace with the Giants. For the Superbas (Now Dodgers), the wins would help keep them out of the National League cellar. What fans got by the end of the day was one of those things that only happened in Deadball Baseball.

In the early game, the Cubs triumphed 5-0. With a couple of doubles, four stolen bases, and a walk, Chicago tallied runs in the fifth, seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. The team picked up 11 hits and had no errors.

In the late game the Cubs won again, this time 3-0. On five hits, all singles, they managed a single run in the third and two in the eighth. Again, they went through without an error. At the end of the day, Chicago led the Giants by a half game.

So why, in the midst of all the late season games that might count, pick out these two? The answer lies in the Chicago Cubs pitcher. Ed Reulbach began game one. He shut out Brooklyn on five singles and a walk. Then he got the call for game two. He responded by again shutting out Brooklyn, this time on four singles and another walk. Along the way he struck out 11 Superbas, seven in game one and four in game two. At the beginning of the day his record was 20-7, by the end he was 22-7. He would end the season 23-7 with seven shutouts, two of them on one day. It is, in the long history of Major League Baseball, the only time that a pitcher has thrown two shutouts on the same day. Let’s hear it for Big Ed.

1908: Henry Clay Pulliam

September 20, 2018

Henry C. Pullliam

One of the more important, but most overlooked, results of the 1908 “Merkle Boner” was what happened off the field in its aftermath. It forever changed, and some argued shortened, the life of National League President Henry Clay Pulliam.

The future National League President was born in Kentucky in 1869, son of a tobacco farmer and named for one of the state’s most famous statesmen. He graduated from law school at the University of Virginia, became a journalist at the Louisville, Kentucky Commercial. Interested in politics, he ran successfully for the Kentucky state assembly and served a term. He came to the attention of Hall of Fame owner Barney Dreyfuss, who owned the Louisville Colonels of the American Association (a Major League at the time). Dreyfuss named him, first, team secretary (a position that would evolve into today’s General Manager), and later club President. While at Louisville, Pulliam signed future Hall of Famer Honus Wagner to his first major league contract.

When the National League contracted for the 1900 season, Dreyfuss and Pulliam moved their headquarters to Pittsburgh (Dreyfuss owned both Louisville and Pittsburgh under the “syndicate” rules of the day), taking with them Louisville’s primary players, including Wagner. It began the turn of the 20th Century Pirates dynasty that managed to get to the first World Series.

But by the first World Series, Pulliam was no longer with the team. He was well liked, considered knowledgeable about the sport, easy to get along with, and quite frankly a number of owners thought he could be easily manipulated. That got him elected to the presidency of the NL in 1902.

His first job was to end the “war” with the fledgling American League. Although Cincinnati owner Gerry Herrmann was primarily responsible for proposing the terms of the “National Agreement” that ended the war, and Dreyfuss was the first proponent of the World Series, Pulliam was instrumental in seeing both implemented. He got along with AL President Ban Johnson (almost no one else did) and was able to ease Johnson’s acceptance of the National Agreement. As NL President he, along with Johnson and Herrmann, was part of the trinity that ran Major League Baseball for the next several years.

But all this led him into conflict with two men of great importance to baseball: Andrew Freedman, owner of the Giants, and the Giants manager John McGraw. Both men argued that Pulliam’s decisions on disputed issues always favored the Pittsburgh position. After an initial unanimous election as NL President, Pulliam’s annual reelection was by a 7-1 margin with New York casting the no vote (later Cincinnati joined New York to make it 6-2). This continued even after Freedman left the Giants and John T. Brush took over as New York team owner.

Always considered “high-strung” Pulliam began suffering health problems by 1906. Some sources indicate he was on the verge of a “nervous breakdown” from the strain of his job. Then came the Merkle Boner (see the post just below this one) and he was thrust into the center of a raging fight between the Giants and almost everyone else. By 1908 John T. Brush had taken control of the Giants and he was furious with both umpire Hank O’Day, who’d ruled the Merkle game a tie, and Pulliam for upholding the decision. For the next year Brush relentlessly hounded Pulliam calling him a cheat in the pay of the Cubs and other things that are not acceptable for a family oriented site like this.

John T. Brush

All of that got to Pulliam and he suffered something like a breakdown in late 1908. He took a leave of absence and didn’t return to NL headquarters until after the 1909 season began. Apparently unable to withstand the pressures of his job, he went to his apartment and shot himself on 28 July 1909. He died the next day still in his apartment. He is buried in Kentucky. John Heydler, his assistant took over the job as NL President.

Pulliam is in many ways a tragic figure. He was good at his job, apparently honest and well liked. But he was unable to withstand the constant strain of the position. It’s much too much to say that Brush and the Giants killed him, but their constant abuse certainly helped lead to the depression that ultimately led to his demise.

Pulliam’s final resting place (from Find a Grave)

 

1908: Merkle

September 18, 2018

Fred Merkle in 1908

You knew when you read that I would be taking some time to talk about the 1908 season that it would eventually come down to Fred Merkle, didn’t you? The “Merkle Boner” is among the most famous of all baseball plays, probably the single most famous Deadball Era play. So without hesitation, let’s get on with it.

At the end of the day on 22 September 1908, the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs were in a virtual tie atop the National League. The Giants were percentage points ahead (.635 to .629) by virtue of having played seven fewer games. They were three up in the loss column, but the Cubs had eight games to play while they had 15 more. The next game for both would be an afternoon game at the Polo Grounds the next day.

Fred Tenney

The Giants’ regular first baseman Fred Tenney was having back trouble and was forced to sit the 23 September game. In his place John McGraw inserted Fred Merkle. Our man Merkle came up in 1907, played a little, was again on the team in 1908. He had not started a game all season and at that point had all of 41 at bats for the year. He was, considered an excellent fielder, an acceptable hitter, and a player worth having. He was also 19 years of age.

The Cubs sent Jack Pfiester to the mound and the Giants replied with ace Christy Mathewson. Pfiester would finish the season at 17-6, while Mathewson would go 37-11. The first four innings were scoreless. In the top of the fifth, Chicago shortstop Joe Tinker, who had a habit of hitting Mathewson well, stroked his fifth home run of the season (he ended up with six). The Giants struck back in the bottom of the sixth when a Mike Donlin single scored Buck Herzog with the tying run. The score remained 1-1 through the top of the ninth. By that point Merkle was 0-2 with a walk.

With one out Art Devlin singled, but was erased on a Moose McCormick grounder. Now with two outs, Merkle sliced a single that put McCormick on third and himself on first. Up came Al Bridwell who drove a pitch into center field scoring McCormick and giving the Giants a one game lead in the NL.

Except that it didn’t. Merkle, halfway to second and seeing McCormick score, turned and trotted toward the club house without ever touching second base. The rules (it’s 4.09) state that, with two outs, no run can score if the final out of the inning is a force play. Merkle was forced to run to second, so a force play was in order.

Johnny Evers

At this point, history leaves off and legend takes over. There a several versions of what happened next. All agree that Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers noticed that Merkle failed to touch second. He called for Cubs center fielder Circus Solly Hofman to throw him the ball. At this point there is great disagreement. The stories indicate that there was some interference with the throw. Most sources say that Giants base coach Joseph McGinnity intercepted the ball and threw it into the stands. Other sources say a fan (fans were on the field by this point) grabbed the ball and either tossed it into the stands or pocketed it. Whatever happened, Evers and other Cubs went after the ball. There seems to have been some sort of scuffle and Evers eventually emerged at second with a ball. Whether it was “the ball” or not is in open dispute. Wherever the ball came from, Evers was on second holding it and arguing that Merkle was out and that the run didn’t count. Umpire Hank O’Day agreed and called Merkle out. With fans all over the field and darkness approaching, he also called the game a tie.

Hank O’Day

New York exploded. McGraw was furious with the umpires, not with Merkle. Team President John T. Brush complained to the National League President. The Cubs prepared for the next game. The ramifications of the game would continue for the remainder of the season. They would effect both teams and, unexpectedly, help determine the fate of not only a pennant, but a life.

 

 

 

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Hans Lobert

September 13, 2018

Hans Lobert with Philadelphia

1. John Bernard Lobert was born in Delaware in 1881. His father was a cabinet-maker.

2. The family later moved to Williamsport, Pennsylvania (home of the Little League World Series) and then to Pittsburgh.

3. In 1903 he was given a tryout by his hometown Pirates. He was a neighbor of Honus Wagner, the two men liked each other, and Wagner, who was nicknamed “Hans” referred to Lobert as “Hans number two.”  He managed one hit, a bunt single, in 13 at bats that season, but picked up a nickname.

4. He spent 1904 in the minors then went to the Cubs in 1905, primarily as a third baseman. After a year with Chicago he was sent to Cincinnati.

5. Between 1905 and 1910, inclusive, he was the Reds primary third baseman, hitting as high as .310 and as low as .212. He did steal a lot of bases averaging 34 a season. In 1908 he stole second base, third base, and home in the same inning.

6. In late 1910 he was traded to Philadelphia (the Phillies, not the Athletics). He had a decent 1911, then was injured in 1912. While with Philly, he ran a foot race against Olympic Champion Jim Thorpe and won.

7. He had two more good years with the Phils, then was traded after 1914 to the Giants, thus missing Philadelphia’s first trip to the World Series in 1915.

8. He remained in New York through the 1917 season, then retired.

9. In retirement he coached at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY for eight seasons, then became a Giants scout. Later he managed in the minors.

10. In 1934, Lobert became a Phillies coach and remained a coach until 1942, when he became the manager. He was 42-109 in his sole year at the helm (he managed two games at Philadelphia on a interim basis in 1938, going 0-2).

11. He returned to the Giants as a coach and a roving instructor, then scouted for both the Dodgers and Giants until he died in 1968.

12. For his career, Lobert hit .274 with an OPS+ of 109, 316 stolen bases, 640 runs scored, and 23.1 WAR.

Edward G. Robinson (in cap) as Lobert

13. In 1953 the movie Big Leaguer starred Edward G. Robinson as Lobert.