Posts Tagged ‘Joe Birmingham’

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.

Opening Day, 1910: Cleveland

April 19, 2010

Addie Joss

For the first time since 1905, Cleveland began the season with a new manager. Napoleon LaJoie took over in 1905 and remained in charge until late in 1909, when old-time catcher Deacon McGuire was handed the job. It changed the team dynamic, it changed the team name (they were called the Naps in LaJoie’s honor), and it changed Lajoie’s game.

For a team that had not done well in its ten-year history, including a sixth place finish 27.5 games back in 1909, Cleveland underwent very little change in the field for 1910. George Stovall stayed at first, LaJoie at second, and Bill Bradley at third. Terry Turner, the former backup middle infielder, took over at short. It wasn’t a particularly distinguished infield, except for LaJoie. Only LaJoie hit above .250 in 1909 and Bradley finished at .186. LaJoie had been on a downward spiral since taking over the managerial spot. There was some hope that released from those duties, he might return to the former player who won a triple crown in 1901, and batting titles on 1903 and ’04.  Neal Ball and George Perring were the infield backups. Ball was the starting shortstop in ’09 and Perring was a holdover.

The outfield saw two of three starters change. Joe Birmingham was a good fielding, decent hitting center fielder with little speed on the bases, a common trait in Cleveland,despite the prevailing strategy of the era. John Graney and Art Kruger were both new. Both had played a little for Cleveland in previous years (’08 for Graney and ’07 for Kruger), but were never regulars. Briscoe Lord remained the backup outfielder. It wasn’t a big hitting outfield and wasn’t a particular improvement over the 1909 version.

Ted Easterly remained the backstop. He hit .261 the year before and shared time with backups Nig Clark, and Harry Bemis. Both remained in 1910, but Clark ended up hurt and Grover Land became the third catcher.  Easterly would have a good year with the bat.

A real strength of the Cleveland team, if it had one, was its aging pitching staff. The problem was the “aging” part. Cy Young was 43 at the end of the 1909 season. Addie Joss, Bob Rhodes, and Cy Falkenberg were all 30. Among the starters, only Heinie Berger was under 30 (he was 27). For 1910 they kept all but Rhodes who disappears from major league rosters forever. They tried Willie Mitchell and Specs Harkness to fill in the gaps for age and loss. Mitchell pitched three games the year before and Harkness was a rookie.

Cleveland is a difficult team to figure. There are spots where they are pretty good (second, catcher, specific pitchers), but there are spots where they lack quality (third, the corner outfield, other pitchers). It’s a team that could rise, but if anybody gets hurt, or anything goes wrong, they could be in trouble. Late in the year they will bring up a 20-year-old rookie outfielder named Joe Jackson. He looks to have some talent.

Next: a break from the monotony of team-by-team to celebrate the accomplishments of Addie Joss.