Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fit to be Tied

Earlier this year, Sophie, our four year old granddaughter, was regaling us with the story of how her parents bought her three books at a local bookstore.  Demonstrating she heard the message which accompanied the purchase, she observed "That's a lot of books."  How many books constitutes "a lot" may be debatable, but there is no question there are "a lot" of baseball games in a major league season.  In 2016, 30 major league teams played some 2,430 regular season games assuming every game was played.  Even back in the days of 16 teams there still over 1,200 games played in the course of the 154 game schedule.  Given that number of games, there has to be something special about any one game to make it stand out, especially years later.  Usually that means games which were crucial in the pennant race or record setting performances like no-hitters and perfect games.  It was interesting, therefore, that in looking through the Spalding Guide for 1918 I found an entire page devoted to a game played eight years earlier in August of 1910.  Not only did the game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Brooklyn Superbas (as they were called then) not matter in the pennant race or see a record setting performance, there was no winner or loser.  Rather the game, which was the second half of a doubleheader, ended as an 8-8 tie, called on account of darkness, an all too frequent occurrence in the days before lights.  

What made the game so special?  Below is the box score as it appeared the next day in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the box score reflects what made game unique, but because the Eagle box scores included more information than most, the answer is somewhat obscure, but it's there.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - 8-14-1910

The next box score from the Pittsburgh Press gives a clearer picture of the answer, but there is one difference from what appeared in the Spalding Guide which still hides to some degree the unique feature of this otherwise more than a little insignificant game.

Pittsburgh Press - August 14, 1910

Finally, there is the below box score from the Pittsburgh Post which hopefully shows why this was a game worth remembering even though there was no winner or loser.  According to this version not only did the two teams score the same number of runs, they also had the same number of at bats, hits, assists and errors. 

Pittsburgh Post - August 14, 1910

Interestingly the box score which appeared in the Spalding Guide is slightly different from the above, reporting each team with one less assist, but still an equal number.  In addition the account in the Guide also mentioned that each team used 10 players, including two pitchers, who had the same number of strike outs, walks, passed balls and hit batsman.  Somewhat surprisingly, at least to me, none of the three newspapers seems to have picked up on the statistical oddity both in the game account or in the next few days.   But someone was paying attention even if it was years later otherwise this quite unique game, in spite of there being no result, would have been lost to history.

Spalding Guide - 1918 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Saddest Words

Photo by Cindy Wiseburn

The 19th century American poet, John Greenleaf Whittier once wrote that "Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been."  It's a great line, if for no reason, because of its universal application, all of us have experienced or will experience missed opportunities at some point in our lives .  In base ball regardless of the type or the kind of involvement there are some equally sad words - "This is the last game of the season," words that no one escapes.  They became reality for the Flemington Neshanock this past Sunday at the Strasburg Railroad Museum in Strasburg, Pennsylvania in the scenic Lancaster countryside.  The Neshanock, of course, never do things in a small way so Sunday saw not just a last game, but three last games, in an event sponsored by the Elkton Eclipse.  Not only are the Eclipse a fine vintage club, they really know how to organize quality vintage events including this one and especially the annual festival in Gettysburg.

Photo by Cindy Wiseburn

On this windy, but sunny day, the Neshanock and Eclipse were joined by the Rising Sun Club of Maryland and the Keystone Club of Harrisburg with each club playing three seven inning matches by 1864 rules.  Flemington opened the day's play against the Rising Sun Club, a team the Neshanock defeated for the first time back in September at the Philadelphia Naval Yard Classic.  In a low scoring game, Rising Sun prevailed by a 4-1 count reportedly in large measure due to the Maryland club's excellent defense.  Next up was the rubber match (a bridge term applied to base ball as far back as the 1850's) with the Elkton Club since the teams had split two games back in June at the Howell Living History Farm.  Although Flemington got off to an early 2-0 lead, defeating the Eclipse twice in one year was too much to hope for and the Maryland club won a close 9-6 decision.   In it's truly "last game" of the season the Neshanock took on the event's only Pennsylvania club, the Keystone Club of Harrisburg led by some time Neshanock Doug "Pops" Pendergrist.  This time Flemington got its bats going, taking a 13-4 lead into the last inning which Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw preserved with some masterful relief pitching or so he told me.  In any event Flemington won it's final game of 2016 by a 13-9 count, finishing with a 25-13 record, the best record in the club's storied history.  Trust me, the Neshanock may not always be the best team, but we never lack for stories.

Photo by Cindy Wiseburn

 2016 marked my ninth year serving as a vintage base ball scorekeeper and while winning always makes things more enjoyable, each season has been a winning experience.  That's because of the people involved and especially those who do the heavy lifting to make it happen.  In that regard, special thanks to Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw who does so much work to get everything organized and then uses encouragement, threats and whatever is necessary to get us to different and sometimes distant venues every weekend from April through October.  Next, of course, are all those who play for the Neshanock, even if it's only a few time a season.  I owe a special debt of thanks to Mark "Gaslight" Granieri, official blog photographer, who this year, more than ever, kept the Neshanock's worldwide fan base informed of the team's results.  "Gaslight" also set a personal record in 2016, throwing out three runners stealing in one game, interestingly the same number he threw out all season.

Photo by Dennis Tuttle

Over the course of the 2016 season, Flemington literally played teams from Maine to Delaware, missing, I think, only Rhode Island.  Thanks to the gentlemen on all of those clubs for their commitment to vintage base ball, a form of living history that seems to expand more and more every year.  Three things are essential to any base ball match, two teams and an umpire, Flemington is fortunate to be able to call on the services of Sam "It ain't nothin' 'til I say" Bernstein.  Finally, but most important of all, thanks to all of the wives, partners, significant others, girl friends, parents and now children who attend games ranging from the stifling heat of Gettysburg in July to the cold of April almost anywhere.  It was to put it mildly another splendiferous season and the same will doubtless be true of 2017.  I wish everyone in the vintage base ball community a wonderful off season and hope to see you sometime, somewhere, next year.

Monday, October 3, 2016

A Pennant Comes to Brooklyn - Part III

Since Boston and Philadelphia were playing a second straight doubleheader on Tuesday, October 3rd, their first game began before the Giants-Dodgers contest got started in Brooklyn. The Phillies scored once in the fourth and when center fielder Dode Paskert, hit a home run in the fifth, things looked good for the home team.  Although the Braves cut the lead in half in the seventh, it seemed like Philadelphia would stay ahead when Boston's Ed Fitzpatrick hit an “ordinary” ground ball to Philadelphia's substitute shortstop, Milt Stock.  However, the ball got past Stock, hit the glove of Brave center fielder, Fred Snodgrass (opposing players typically left their gloves on the playing field while at bat), causing Paskert to also muff it. The tying run scored on the play, followed shortly thereafter by the go-ahead score.  Boston wasn't done, scoring two more times in the inning on their way to a 6-3 victory, pushing the Phillies to the brink of elimination.

Jeff Pfeffer

As the Phillies' pennant hopes began to crumble, Nasium of the Philadelphia Inquirer noticed the posting of a “one-sided and suspicious looking score” from Brooklyn.  “Suspicious” is a subjective term, but if the game was “one-sided,” at the outset, it was in favor of the Giants.  In their first at bat, New York got three hits which along with three Brooklyn errors, put the Dodgers behind 3-0 before they even came to bat.  While Brooklyn made up one run in the second, the Giants got it back in the top of the third, aided by another Dodger miscue.  Down 4-1 in the bottom of the inning, however, the Dodgers got their act together and scored four times, to take a 5-4 lead.  New York still wasn’t done, and they rallied against Jeff Pfeffer, who relieved Sherrod Smith in the fourth, tying the game at five.  Things didn’t stay that way for long when with two out in the fifth, Brooklyn's Ivy Olsen drove in Mike Mowrey for a 6-5 Brooklyn lead.  At some point during the bottom of that inning (accounts differ) John McGraw stormed off the field and wouldn’t return for the rest of the season.  He wasn’t the only unhappy Giant.  Art Fletcher and Rube Benton had words earlier in the contest, and Buck Herzog was reportedly so annoyed with New York’s pitching, “it looked as if he was going in and pitch himself.”

George "Possum" Whitted

With a 6-5 lead and Pfeffer now in command, the Brooklyn added single runs in the next three innings while holding the Giants to a meaningless tally in the 9th.   At the end of Brooklyn’s 9-6 win, the Phillies and Braves were tied in their second game.  Erskine Mayer had started for Philadelphia against Lefty Tyler, and the Phillies took a 1-0 lead on George Whitted’s home run.  Whitted had sprained his ankle in the first game and was basically playing on one leg, since this was literally the last ditch for Philadelphia.  In the sixth, Mayer struck out the first two Braves, but Joe Wilhoit hit one that Whitted could only limp after, ending up on third before scoring the tying run on Bert Niehoff’s “inexcusable boot.”  Even though the Dodgers game was over, many Brooklyn fans remained in the stands, while the players changed into their street clothes and sat in the locker room, “silent and watchful.”  Another gathering, this one at the Brooklyn Daily Times offices, which had followed the Brooklyn game on a message board, stuck around, hoping for word of a pennant won. The waiting must have seemed like an eternity, but finally there was good new when in the Boston seventh, a double by Dick Egan and a throwing error by Philliess’ third baseman Bobby Byrnes allowed the Braves to take 2-1 lead.  Any hopes of a Philadelphia come back ended in the eighth when Boston scored four times.

Wilbert Robinson

Finally at about 5:30, in the time it took for the score to reach Brooklyn by telegraph and for a reporter to run to the locker room, the Dodgers learned they had won the 1916 National League pennant race.  “Like a thunderstorm, the riot broke out,” as some players threw things, while the eyes of others welled up with tears.  In response to a demand from his players, Wilbert Robinson tried to say something but “just gurgled.” Outside in the gathering twilight, the fans didn’t wait for the final result to start celebrating.  When the Braves scored in the 7th, “pandemonium broke loose,” and most of the crowd left “laughing, grinning from ear to ear,” while some staid business men were reported to have “skipped along merrily.”  It was an “inspiring scene,” but supposedly nothing like the “demonstration” at the Brooklyn Daily Times offices.  The news that Boston had taken a 6-1 lead was greeted with a roar so loud “the air was shattered.” Those who swore, “swore hard,” and those who laughed “laughed hard.”  Finally, the growing darkness and thoughts of supper and “angry wives and mothers” sent “the devotees of the only game in the world away from the most pleasant sight of the ages.”  1916 may not have been baseball's greatest season, but it was definitely baseball at its best.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Pennant Comes to Brooklyn - Part II

Fortunately for anyone at risk of 1916 pennant race apoplexy, the prohibition on Sunday baseball in the East, meant October 1 was a day off for the four contenders.  While the players rested, the fans and writers had time for in depth speculation about the season's final and deciding week.  Due to September rain outs, Boston and Philadelphia were forced to play six games in four days, beginning with two doubleheaders while the Dodgers and Giants had four single contests.  The math was simple – Philadelphia had to win two more games than Brooklyn, so, if,for example, Brooklyn defeated the Giants once, the Phils only had to split with the Braves.  Boston's sole chance to win the pennant was to take five of six from the Phillies while the Giants swept Brooklyn, a long shot at best.  All that was left for New York was the spoiler's role.  Added to the Phillies' burden was the injury to Bancroft, since his absence required Philadelphia to play with an infield that hadn’t played previously together.  Another unknown was how well New York would play now that their record setting streak was over with some observers suggesting a letdown was inevitable. 

Otto Rettig

Before the Dodgers-Giants series began on Monday, both teams played Sunday exhibition games.  At Ebbets Field, a game was played between Brooklyn's reserves and some September roster additions.  The Giants, however, traveled to Paterson, New Jersey to take on the Paterson or Doherty Silk Sox, a local semipro team.  The Silk Sox had enjoyed an excellent season but lost their two prior major league exhibition games to the Yankees and Philadelphia A’s.  Not surprisingly, a large crowd of 10,000 gathered to see the record-setting Giants.  With one exception, New York played their regulars, against Paterson’s star hurler, Otto Rettig, who had pitched the day before.  In one more 1916 surprise, Rettig used his “slow ball” to shut the Giants out on three hits, while striking out 13.  Predictably, some questioned New York’s effort, but they had been promised additional money for runs and home runs, none of which they collected.   Rettig would eventually enjoy an extremely brief Major League career, winning only one game, a 1922 victory over the St. Louis Browns, but an important game nonetheless since the Browns finished only one game behind the first place Yankees.

Ferdinand Schupp

After the embarrassing loss to a semi-pro club on Sunday, McGraw’s team arrived at Ebbets Field on Monday with newly discovered star pitcher Ferdinand Schupp on the mound.  After spending most of the season on the bench Schupp had been a crucial cog in the Giants 26 game winning streak, winning six straight and giving up a microscopic three runs in the process. A relatively large October 2nd, “wash day” crowd, estimated at 15,000, was on hand, although it was reported nearly half of them were rooting for the Giants.   In the top of the first, New York loaded the bases with two out, bringing Benny Kauff to the plate against Jack Coombs.  The veteran Brooklyn hurler fell behind 3-0 but came back to strike Kauff out on a slow, waist high pitch that “suddenly dropped into Miller’s big glove.” Since Brooklyn didn't figure to score much, if at all, against Schupp, it was a key out. The contest remained scoreless until the bottom of the fourth when with one out, Jake Daubert reached first on a ground ball that was ruled a hit, but some writers felt was an error. Daubert then tried to steal second, and while Bill Rariden’s throw to second was perfect, second baseman, Buck Herzog dropped the ball, putting a runner in scoring position.  Zach Wheat wasted no time taking advantage, “crackling a whistling single to left,” giving Brooklyn a crucial run. 

Jack Coombs

Down one run in the eighth, McGraw went to a pinch hitter for Schupp, but the Giants failed to score and the Dodgers added an insurance run for a 2-0 win.   Schupp was once again brilliant, allowing only an unearned run on four hits.   However, this was Coombs’ day, as he shut out New York on six hits, for his sixth victory over McGraw’s team since 1915.  One writer claimed it was the greatest game of “Colby Jack’s” career, validating Wilbert Robinson’s decision to pitch him in this crucial match up.  No doubt aware of the veteran pitcher's record against New York, Robinson chose Coombs,even though Larry Cheney and Sherry Smith had equal rest.  Coombs’ success in changing speeds, coupled with the off-speed success of the semipro Rettig the previous day, suggests the exhibition game might have hurt the Giants’ timing.  Some “disgruntled” Giant fans claimed New York “did not play their best” due to their friendship with Robinson.  Other observers said the Giants played as if they had a collective hangover and might have been “pulling their punches," but most writers believed Coombs was simply too dominant

Zach Wheat

When Coombs took the mound earlier that afternoon, the Dodgers were actually in second place because the Phils won the opener of their doubleheader against the Braves.  Although some thought Alexander was suffering from overwork, he pitched his 16th shutout, even though it was Alex’s third start in five days.  The loss finally eliminated Boston from the race, but that didn’t mean they would quit.  While some fans thought Grover Cleveland would start the second game as well, instead Al Demaree faced off with Ed Reulbach.  The score was 1-1 until manager George Stallings' team scored once in the sixth and twice in the seventh, while Reulbach held off the Phils.  The Braves’ win, coupled with Brooklyn’s victory, severely damaged the Phillies’ pennant hopes.  Some of the Philadelphia writers were quick to put the blame on Bancroft’s absence, but the Phils’ lack of offense was equally important.  At day’s end, Brooklyn was on the brink - if the Dodgers beat the Giants on Tuesday and the Phils’ lost twice, Brooklyn would win the pennant.  However, there was little room for error since the opposite result would put Brooklyn in second place.  Philadelphia writer Jim Nasium (pen name for Edgar Forrest Wolfe) captured the atmosphere perfectly, writing that the “nerve shattering strife for the baseball supremacy of the National League continued unabated.”

                                Team                         Win      Losses   Games Behind

                                Brooklyn                     92        59                    -

                                Philadelphia                90        59                    1