1918: Babe Ruth and the World Champion Boston Red Sox by Allan Wood –Chapter 19

Boston’s Starting Rotation: Sam Jones, Carl Mays, Babe Ruth and Joe Bush
(photographed at Fenway Park, 1918 World Series)

Chapter 19

Game One: “Thanks For Convincing Me I Wasn’t a Catcher”

Shortly before sunrise, it began to rain. The dreary weather, with strong winds off Lake Michigan and a hint of sleet, was expected to last all day and possibly into the night. The night before the White Sox hosted the New York Giants in the 1917 World Series, more than 2,000 fans had camped outside Comiskey Park. They huddled under blankets, built bonfires and drank coffee as they speculated on the Series. Chicago hotel managers were forced to put cots in hallways to accommodate the crowds. When a group of policemen arrived at Comiskey Park on Wednesday morning, ready to maintain order, they found only 50 people bunched near the grandstand entrance. A few salesmen were at their carts preparing sandwiches. Inside the park, 15 sheep grazed on the outfield grass.

Herman Schultz had taken the train from Goodland, Indiana, to attend the Series with his friend Isabelle Huncker. They waited near the front of the ticket line until 9:00 a.m. before leaving to dry off, confident they would have no problem getting good seats. Even though the Cubs were selling tickets to individual games rather than the usual three-game packages, it was unlikely that the game would sell out. It was the first time newspaper advertisements had been needed to announce World Series tickets and thousands still remained available.

Local gamblers were surprised at the lack of interest. On the city’s South Side, fans stayed true to the American League and bet on the Red Sox. One person willing to wager on the Cubs was Phillies manager Pat Moran, who bet $500. Chicago sportswriter Matt Foley was shocked – Moran was such a skinflint, Foley said, he was “one of those fellows who would ask odds before betting a nickel that there is a war.”

For fans unable to go to the ballpark, the only way to hear about the games was to grab an afternoon or evening paper, which would have the linescore above the headlines and the raw details inside, or to hang out in front of the various bars and newspaper offices where special scoreboards had been erected. The boards varied in size and in the amount of information displayed. A telegraph operator would receive an update from the park, and the news – balls, strikes, men on base, runs scored – would be posted, recreating the game pitch-by-pitch.

A Boston promoter promised that at Tremont Temple, each game would be “completely reproduced” courtesy of “Howell’s Baseball Machine.” Helen Ruth decided to follow the action at the Boston Arena on St. Botolph Street, where the advertisement read:

Real Life! Real Action! Watch The Ball!
Doors Open at 1:30. Game starts at 3 P.M.
A Comfortable Seat for 25в and 50в.
Bring the Ladies. Direct Wire to the Game.

National Commission chairman Garry Herrmann phoned Charles Comiskey from the Congress Hotel Wednesday morning, checking conditions at the ballpark. “The umpires tell me the outfield is soaked,” Comiskey reported.

“Even if the rain stops by noon, the field won’t be ready this afternoon.” Herrmann met with interim National League president John Heydler (John Tener had resigned in early August) and at 10:20, they postponed the game. Notices were tacked up throughout downtown Chicago announcing that the three games would now be played on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The games in Boston would not be affected.

With the schedule change, ticket sales for Saturday’s third game picked up, further proof that not planning weekend dates had been a huge mistake. Harry Frazee and Charles Weeghman probably hoped the rain would continue and force a game on Sunday as well.

The postponement was fine with Ed Barrow, who thought the Red Sox could use another day of rest. Jack Coffey took indoor fielding practice, just in case Dave Shean couldn’t play. “It’s nothing,” Shean told anyone who asked about his finger. “I’ll be in there every game.” Babe Ruth didn’t mind the time off, saying, “It only postpones the killing one more day.”

A soggy infield would hinder the speedier Cubs and the extra day of rest might work against their pitchers; Vaughn and Tyler were both “notoriously in line for wildness after a layoff.”

After hearing of the postponement, some players went back to bed, a few hung out in the hotel lobby and read the papers, while others went to the movies. Several Red Sox visited the War Exposition in Grant Park, which included mock soldiers digging trenches and fighting ground and air battles.

Herrmann held court in his hotel suite, where he presided over a huge feast that included roast chickens, boiled hams, blood pudding, baked beans, cole slaw and plenty of drink. “Garry was a walking delicatessen,” one observer wrote, “a connoisseur of sausage. He carried his own wherever he went.”

Boston vaudeville musician Joe Daly treated the Red Sox to an hour of music at the hotel that night. Joe Bush sang along with Daly on several songs, including “The Land of Wedding Bells.” Sam Jones won $44 at poker and remarked, “I hope it rains tomorrow.”

Harry Frazee wanted a change in the umpiring system. In previous World Series, the plate umpire had always been from the home team’s league. Because of this year’s unorthodox schedule, Frazee wanted the umpires rotated for each game; his request was granted.

Early Thursday morning, a police wagon pulled up alongside Comiskey Park, and a half-dozen men were arrested. Rumors spread that it was a “slacker raid” – a round-up of men who were violating the work-or-fight order – but it turned out to be only a crackdown on the crap games being played in the ticket line.

Raids had been conducted in many cities all summer, but after the Labor Day work-or-fight deadline, they became more frequent. Men were pulled off the streets by soldiers and sailors, even by volunteer vigilantes. In hotels, saloons, dance halls and pool rooms throughout Chicago, men were stopped and asked for their draft card; anyone without a card was detained at a makeshift internment camp on a city pier. On Tuesday morning, September 3, in New York, early risers found all the subway entrances blocked; thousands were taken, some forcibly, to detention centers, where they waited all day and night to be questioned. New Jersey, nearly 30,000 men were rounded up: 800 were inducted immediately and 12,500 more were reclassified. Congress ignored protests against the raids; the country needed fighting men.

Back at Comiskey, more than 300 people waited in the cloudy, damp chill for the remaining tickets that went on sale at 9:00 a.m. Fans wore overcoats and carried blankets to shield themselves against the wind. Vendors along the street sold food, gum and balloons. A few “speculators” tried to sell tickets for double or even triple face value with no success – cigar stores and hotels were offering excellent seats at regular prices.

The Red Sox were on the field two hours before game time, warming up, before the Cubs appeared. The grounds crew worked quickly to repair the ceremonial bunting damaged by the rain. A 12-piece brass band entertained the crowd and Babe Ruth hammered Walt Kinney’s first batting practice pitch deep into the right field bleachers. Many early arrivals, seeing the Big Fellow for the first time, cheered.

A group of Royal Rooters, led by Johnny Keenan, had arrived from Boston the previous day and were in good spirits. The Red Sox players also had friends and family in town for support. Everett Scott’s father was there with a rooting party from Buffington and Auburn, Indiana. Wally Schang’s wife had traveled with the team from New York, and Schang’s father and one of his brothers came up from Cincinnati. Joe Bush and Wally Mayer both had siblings in the crowd. Fred Thomas’s father drove down from Milwaukee for the first game. He was a dead ringer for his son; upon seeing the elder Thomas, Red Sox scout Billy Murray said, “If Tommy wasn’t playing, Barrow could put Thomas Sr. on the hot corner and get away with it.”

The morning edition of the Chicago Evening Post listed Boston’s lineup with Ruth in left field and Joe Bush on the mound, so it was no surprise when Bush started warming up in front of the Red Sox dugout. Five minutes later, Ruth was throwing beside him, and the fans were abuzz. When Barrow handed his lineup card to umpire Hank O’Day, it read, “Whiteman, lf” and ” Ruth, p.”

“Everyone expects me to start with Carl,” Barrow had told Ruth that morning. “Jim Vaughn is almost sure to start for the Cubs, and if he does, I want to cross them up and pitch you. Don’t say anything. I want this to be a surprise.”

Chicago sportswriter Ring Lardner, the author of the recently published collection of baseball short stories, “You Know Me, Al,” thought the truth was more complex. He claimed that Fred Mitchell chose Vaughn as his pitcher only after Barrow had tapped Ruth; Mitchell actually preferred Lefty Tyler because, unlike Vaughn, Tyler could pitch the third game on one day’s rest. Vaughn would have pitched Game Two, the travel day giving him an extra day off before Game Four in Boston. But now that Ruth had been announced, Mitchell was forced to play Vaughn, since he was a better hitter against left-handers. If Lardner’s theory was correct, Barrow had accomplished his goal of disrupting Mitchell’s pitching plans.

Harry Hooper stepped into the batter’s box in the top of the first inning. Many White Sox fans were rooting for the American Leaguers and Hooper was warmly cheered. He looked at strike one, then tapped a swinging bunt to first base. Fred Merkle grabbed the ball with his bare hand and tossed it to Vaughn, who had hustled quickly off the mound. Dave Shean, in his normal spot in the order, punched an 0-2 pitch the other way, singling down the right field line. Amos Strunk forced Shean at second and Vaughn’s first pitch to George Whiteman rolled away from Bill Killefer. Strunk took off for second, then inexplicably slowed down halfway to the bag, and was thrown out.

Babe Ruth’s last World Series appearance, and his only Series pitching performance, had been against Brooklyn in 1916. In what remains the longest World Series game by innings, Ruth outlasted Sherry Smith 2-1 in 14 innings. Against the Cubs, Ruth got two quick outs before Les Mann’s grounder hit a rock and bounced over Shean’s head for a single. Mann had the green light to steal and even with Ruth’s pitchout, Sam Agnew’s throw was late.

Dode Paskert whacked a low liner to left. The ball dropped 10 feet in front of Whiteman and he misplayed it off his shin. His awkward, off-balance throw to third sailed over Fred Thomas’s head and Ruth’s alert backup behind the bag kept Mann from scoring. Paskert jogged into second.

Ruth started off Fred Merkle with a strike, but then kept the ball away, nearly throwing a wild pitch on ball three. The fourth ball was intentional and it loaded the bases for Charlie Pick.

Mitchell’s choice of the left-hand hitting Pick was questioned as the game went on. More than a few writers thought Rollie Zeider’s experience and right-handed bat made him a more logical choice against Ruth. Pick took ball one. Knowing Babe couldn’t afford to fall behind 2-0 with the bases loaded, he should have been ready for the next pitch – but he wasn’t. It was a called strike. Ruth moved Pick off the plate with ball two, then retired him on a fly ball. Whiteman was shallow and he drifted over into left-center field where he made the catch knee-high.

A fan sitting behind the Red Sox bench called Agnew over. “Sam, tell Babe to keep the ball inside on these fellows,” he said, adding that he had $300 riding on Boston. “I’ve seen ’em all summer. Brush ’em back and he’ll have no more trouble.” When the Red Sox retook the field, Agnew and Ruth walked out of the dugout together. “Everything’s okay, old boy,” the catcher called over. “Babe says he’ll do that.”

There had been talk of more rain in the morning, but by 2:00 p.m. the sky was clear. The sun was shining, but it was still cool enough for overcoats. Attendance was disappointing. The upper tier of the grandstand was nearly deserted, and a number of box seats remained empty. It looked as though only the hard-core fanatics had shown up.

Ruth batting ninth in the order, the pitcher’s spot, had his first at-bat with one out in the third inning. A huge roar went up, as prolonged as any cheer made for the Cubs. Right fielder Max Flack backed up to the bleachers. Ruth lined Vaughn’s 1-1 pitch to right-center field. Paskert slipped on the damp grass, but recovered quickly for the catch.

Vaughn had problems with his control early on, going to full counts on several Boston batters and allowing a hit in each of the first three innings. He began the fourth with four inside pitches to Shean. Strunk tried moving the runner to second, but that had been one of his weaknesses all season. This attempt was no different. On the first pitch, Strunk popped to Vaughn and Shean darted back to first.

Whenever the Red Sox had a man on first in the early innings, they would try hitting behind the runner. Max Flack was very shallow in right field and his strong arm made it unlikely that any Boston runner would advance to third. With Whiteman up, Flack again crept in behind the Chicago infield. But Whiteman pulled the pitch and drove a single to Hollocher’s right and into left field. Shean stopped at second.

To Hugh Fullerton, sitting in the press box, Hollocher seemed horribly out of position. He was playing way over near second base against the right-handed hitting Whiteman, the same spot he had been in for Whiteman’s previous single in the second, and Hooper’s hit in the third. What’s wrong with Mitchell? he wondered. Hadn’t these guys scouted the Red Sox?

Stuffy McInnis took a fastball high. Mann was a little shallow in left field, hoping to prevent Shean from scoring on a single. But McInnis was a pull hitter – Joe Bush said he “couldn’t toss the ball up by himself and hit it to right field” – and Mann was standing nearly 50 feet off the line. McInnis gave Shean the hit-and-run sign. Shean took his lead off the bag, leaning back as Hollocher bluffed a play. With Vaughn’s pitch, Shean took off. McInnis guessed curveball and whacked the ball over Deal’s head into left field, where it rolled slowly on the soggy grass. Mann made a hurried throw home, but Shean, who The Sporting News said “runs like a turtle on an iceberg,” scored without a play. Boston led 1-0.

Whether Pick and Hollocher allowed Shean too large of a lead was questionable, but clearly Mann had been out of position. In the dugout, Shean gave Barrow and Lawler an update on his finger: he would remain in the game.

Ruth settled into a rhythm, retiring the Cubs in order in the fourth and getting two quick outs in the fifth before hitting Max Flack in the head with a pitch. The Cubs’ leadoff man sat on the ground for a minute, then got up and jogged to first. Hollocher popped up and the inning was over. Ruth took a seat in the dugout next to Barrow. “Well, Eddie, I guess I took care of that Mann guy for you.”

Barrow was confused. Before the game, when he and Ruth discussed the Chicago hitters, Barrow had mentioned Les Mann. “Don’t let up on that guy,” he had warned Ruth. “He’s tough against lefties, so don’t let him dig in. Dust him off a little if you want.” But he hadn’t said much about Flack.

Once Barrow remembered that Ruth never could recall names or faces, it made a bit of sense. Mann and Flack were about the same height, although Flack was thinner; more to the point, thought Barrow, Mann hits right-handed and Flack bats left-handed.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Cubs Claws, a bunch of Chicago rooters sitting behind their team’s dugout, starting cheering for a rally against Ruth. Paskert and Merkle both singled and with runners at first and second and one out, Barrow, methodically pacing in the afternoon chill, told Sam Jones and Joe Bush to loosen up their arms.

In the other dugout, Fred Mitchell had some decisions to make. In the first inning, Charlie Pick had a poor at-bat with the bases loaded and was overmatched when Ruth struck him out in the fourth. Should Mitchell let him bat again or send Zeider in as a pinch-hitter? He decided to have Pick bunt and take his chances with the next batter, Charlie Deal.

Pick did his job, half-bunting, half-swinging a roller to McInnis, who took the play himself. With men at second and third, Ruth came inside to Deal and fell behind 2-0. The crowd started to make a little more noise.

Ruth battled back and Deal hung in, fouling off three straight pitches, the last one a rope down the left field line. Then Deal swung at a pitch that was probably ball four, and hit it to left center. Whiteman raced over and although the wind was strong and the ball almost popped out of his glove, he caught it to end the rally.

During the seventh-inning stretch, the brass band began playing an impromptu version of “The Star Spangled Banner.” All the players faced the flagpole in right field; at third base, Fred Thomas stood at attention in a military salute. Only a few fans sang along initially, but by the end, most of the crowd had joined in – and then burst into the loudest cheers of the afternoon.

In the middle of the ninth, with their Cubs still trailing 1-0, some fans gave up and left. With two outs, Deal reached on an infield single and Chicago native Bill McCabe went in to pinch-run. Killefer swatted the longest fly ball of the afternoon to right field. Harry Hooper caught it on the run and in 1 hour, 50 minutes, Boston had upset the dope and won the opening game. It was the first shutout in a World Series opener since 1905, only the second 1-0 World Series game in 13 years.

Ruth’s sixth-inning stumble had been his only lapse in concentration. From the sixth to the ninth, using his fastball and mixing in his curve to keep the hitters off stride, Ruth retired 10 straight batters. Coupled with his victory in 1916, Ruth had now pitched 22 consecutive scoreless World Series innings. Christy Mathewson’s record of 28 innings was within reach in his next start. Sitting in the locker room, Ruth considered sending a telegram to Brother Matthias: “Thanks again for convincing me that I wasn’t a catcher.” But it was only a momentary thought, quickly forgotten amid his teammates’ celebration.

“We got the jump on them today,” Ed Barrow said. “First blood counts for a lot in a short series. We knew Ruth was the man to beat the Cubs, and Babe came through as expected. I’ll certainly give him another start back in Boston.”

The other star of the game was George Whiteman, whose father had come north from Texas to see his son in a big league game for the first time. At 35, Whiteman was the second oldest player on either roster (Dode Paskert was 16 months older) and had been completely ignored in the pre-Series hoopla. One of his two singles sparked Boston’s rally and he made five catches in left field, three of which were tough chances on a windy afternoon that gave fits even to sure-handed stars like Hooper and Paskert.

The crowd was announced at 19,274, roughly 13,000 fewer fans than had attended the first game of the 1917 Series. Home plate umpire Hank O’Day thought it was also one of the quietest World Series games he had ever seen. There hadn’t been a lot of cheering, not even from the Cubs Claws, and nothing approaching the usual umpire baiting. Gate receipts totaled $30,348, the lowest for a Series opener in more than a decade. Charles Comiskey put on a brave face and said, “When you stop to think that most of our boys between 21 and 31 are gone, and most of those at home too busy to get away, I think the attendance was large. Also, there are fewer out-of-town fans because of the high railroad prices.”

White Sox catcher Ray Schalk watched the game with teammates Buck Weaver and Oscar Felsch. “Everything was done right,” Schalk said. “No bad plays were pulled and the club that got the break won.” It had been an afternoon of sizing up the other side: both teams testing the opposing catcher’s arm and Boston trying a few hit-and-run plays but neither side had taken many risks.

“The whole thing in a nutshell is they hit one at the right time and we didn’t,” Fred Mitchell said. “That’s all there is to it. But we aren’t discouraged. We don’t think the Red Sox showed they had anything on us.” Mitchell said he and his coaches had “found the weak spots of the Red Sox and the score will tell a different story tomorrow.”

Clarence “Pants” Rowland, the White Sox manager, was covering the Series for the Chicago Daily News, and in his opinion, Babe Ruth was the American League’s most consistent left-handed pitcher. “I wouldn’t say the Red Sox are the strongest team that ever represented their league,” Rowland wrote, but “the Cubs will have to play exceptionally high grade ball to win.”

While everyone assumed Lefty Tyler would pitch Game Two, Barrow wouldn’t commit to either Carl Mays or Joe Bush. But perhaps the bigger question for the Red Sox manager was who would play left field. Ruth had struck out twice against Vaughn, the Boston Globe calling him “about as useful as a broken umbrella in a rainstorm.” When it came to swinging the lumber, the Boston Evening Record noted, “Ruth looked like a thin dime . . . while Whiteman looked like ready money.”

* * *

At 3:10 that afternoon, after perhaps three innings of the Ruth-Vaughn duel, a bomb concealed in a suitcase exploded inside the Adams Street entrance to Chicago’s Federal Building. It was one of the busiest times of day: nearly 100 people were in the corridor when the bell in the building’s dome signaled the clerks’ change of shifts. Four people were killed and 75 were injured.

The suitcase had been hidden behind a radiator. The force of the blast tore the radiator out of the floor, hurling it 20 feet into the street, where it struck and killed a horse. Desks were destroyed, marble was torn out of the walls, and the street was filled with plaster, stone and broken glass. Every window on the first three floors of two buildings across the street were blown in; some windows as high as the 10th floor were shattered and many pedestrians suffered serious wounds from huge shards of falling glass.

The surrounding streets were quickly roped off and bayonet-wielding soldiers kept the crowds at a distance. A man suspected of planting the bomb was chased down Dearborn Street by a mob and caught after a wild chase. He was quickly surrounded and only the arrival of the police prevented a lynching.

Ninety-five members of the International Workers of the World, a socialist organization, had been recently convicted of obstructing the government’s war program. The trial had begun in April 1918 and continued for five months, at that time the longest trial in U.S. history. The Department of Justice believed the Chicago blast was an act of revenge by the I.W.W.

William “Big Bill” Haywood, general secretary-treasurer of the I.W.W. (often called the Wobblies), was on the building’s eighth floor when the explosion occurred; the courtroom of Federal Judge Kenesaw M. Landis, who had presided over the Wobblies’ trial, was on the sixth floor. Within 15 minutes of the blast, police raided two I.W.W. headquarters, arresting nine men. By late afternoon, 20 suspects were in custody and a general roundup of Chicago’s I.W.W. members had begun.

й 2000 by Allan James Wood