Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Seasons in Time: 1914 (Part 4 of 5)

(In this series, I will recap in a series of posts one season of Braves baseball from Boston-to-Atlanta and everything in between. If you have a particular season you'd like to see reviewed, let me know in the comments.)

Part 1 - Prologue
Part 2 - The Road Trip that Wouldn't End
Part 3 - Finding Their Footing

Part 4 - Unfazed on the Biggest Stage

The Braves had stormed all the way back from a 28-40 record when play began on July 8 to win 66 of their final 85 games. It was an amazing accomplishment that propelled Boston from worst-to-first in the span of a mere few months.

Connie Mack (left) in 1914 | Library of Congress
If Boston felt they all the momentum on their side when the World Series began, they were greatly mistaken. In Philadelphia, something big also took place. Connie Mack's Athletics went on a similar run from beginning in the dog days of summer. Unlike Boston, Philadelphia wouldn't have to come from behind to win the pennant - they led the AL by three games as play picked up on July 8. While they weren't as dominant as Boston in wins-losses, they were as dominant on the field. Boston scored 415 runs after July 7. The A's scored 414. Boston surrendered 264 runs while Philadelphia was charged with 239.

The Athletics had taken over the AL lead on June 9 and never gave it back. Five different Hall of Famers played on the team and that doesn't include their revered skipper, Mr. Mack. Already a seasoned manager at 51, Mack had taken over the A's in 1901 at 38 year-old. Even more amazing, he wasn't a rookie manager as he was already in his second stop as skipper. Already with pennants in 1902 and 1905, Mack guided the A's to the promise land in 1910 and they would follow that up with two more titles in three years. It had been expected that John McGraw and Mack would battle wits in the Fall Classic for a fourth time in 1914. Mack had already got the best of McGraw's Giants in 1911 and 1913 while McGraw won his first World Series in 1905 against Mack. Of course, that was before George Stallings and the Braves rolled past the Giants.

Nobody had even come close to matching Philadelphia's 749 runs in 1914. It was tough to find an easy out in their lineup. Eddie Collins had OPS'd .904 on the heels of 39 extra base hits, 58 steals, and 97 walks to go with 31 K's. At third base, Home Run Baker lived up to his name with nine homers, which gave him his fourth consecutive homerun title. The infield, which also included first baseman Stuffy McInnis and shortstop Jack Berry, was dubbed the $100,000 infield for their worth when McInnish joined the other three in 1911.

Beyond their valuable infield, the Athletics had catcher Wally Schang, who finished 1914 with a .775 OPS a year after making a name for himself as the A's rookie catcher who hit .357 in the 1913 World Series. Schang would later become a catcher and utility player for the 1918 Red Sox, catching - among others - Babe Ruth.

The rotation, which had been built on the arms of Eddie Plank and Chief Bender for much of the dynasty, was beginning to shift toward younger arms like 21 year-old Bullet Joe Bush and 23 year-old righty Bob Shawkey.

The A's had won 98 games during the regular season and were huge favorites to beat the scrappy Braves. The belief was that Boston had accomplished a great deal to get to this point, but the A's were the most complete team in baseball and would shove these upstarts to the side in rout to a fourth title in five years.

Dick Rudolph | Library of Congress
The Braves traveled south to Philadelphia to open the series. Dick Rudolph got the start for the Braves while Mack countered with 30 year-old Chief Bender. Born Charles Albert Bender in Minnesota, Bender was born to a German-American father and a Ojibwe (Chippewa) mother. Bender was one of at least 11 children. The family settled in the White Earth Reservation of Minnesota before Bender was sent to a boarding school for American Indian children in Pennsylvania. It was there he learned baseball and was discovered by one of Mack's people. Mack would later say of Bender that despite managing the likes of Lefty Grove and Rube Waddell, there was no other pitcher he would rather give the ball to in a must-win game than Bender.

But on October 9, 1914, the Braves had Bender's number like they had the number of so many greats they faced during the season. After a scoreless first, the Possum Whitted led off with a walk. Whitted had settled into the cleanup spot and hit .321 over the final 14 games after joining the team following a late June trade with the Cardinals. With one out, Hank Gowdy doubled in Whitted to draw first blood. Rabbit Maranville followed with an RBI single and the Braves were out to a lead they would not surrender. Whitted added a two-run triple in the sixth as the Braves plated six runs off Bender in the latter's final appearance in the Fall Classic. The Braves rolled to a 6-1 win.

A day later, back at Shibe Park, a true classic was developing between Bill James and 38 year-old Eddie Plank. Born in Gettysburg ten years after the Civil War ended, Plank had failed to throw 200 innings for the first time in his career in 1914. Still, he maintained a 2.87 ERA and 2.17 FIP during the season. Like Bender, Plank had been around for the glory years of the Athletics under Mack. He would end his career with the most wins by a lefthander in baseball history until Warren Spahn passed him. In an era of big stolen base numbers, Plank rarely threw over to first base. A former player recalled Plank saying, "There are only so many pitches in this old arm, and I don't believe in wasting them throwing to first base."

With a lefty on the mound, Braves skipper George Stallings shifted his lineup. He benched Herbie Moran and Joe Connolly in favor of Les Mann and Ted Cather while keeping Whitted in center field. The Braves threatened Plank in the first with a single and a walk, but couldn't score. Meanwhile, in the bottom half, Bill James walked the first batter he faced. Unlike Plank, he didn't mind throwing over and picked off Eddie Murphy straying a little too far away from first. The A's wouldn't get another baserunner until the sixth.

Boston continued to threaten Plank throughout the game. The top of the seventh was the first time Plank got through an inning unscathed. He was always on the verge of disaster while James rolled through inning-after inning until the sixth, when Wally Schang broke up a no-hit bid with a double. Despite the contrast between utter dominance and just getting by, neither team could score against James and Plank.

In the top of the ninth, Charlie Deal doubled. Deal was a good glovesman at third base, but not much of a hitter as his .210 batting average during the year showed. He would only manage two hits during the 1914 series, but this one was a big one. With Plank unwilling to throw to second to keep him close, Deal stole third to put the go-ahead run on third base. Plank bore down and struck out James, who Stallings refused to pinch hit for. That brought up Les Mann with two outs. Whether or not the stolen base mattered is not readily known, but suffice it to say, it was easier for Mann to bring Deal in from third base than second base. Which Mann did as he singled to plate Deal and put Boston on top.

In the bottom of the 10th, James worked around two walks to finish the game on a Rabbit Maranville-to-Butch Schmidt double play. James had yielded just two hits and three walks while striking out eight. The statistician Bill James later developed "Game Score," as a way to determine the value of any one start by a pitcher. In Braves World Series history, James's 88 Game Score is tied with Warren Spahn's outing in Game 4 of the 1958 World Series as the best individual pitching performance for a Brave in the playoffs.

For Plank, he shared one more thing in common with his long-time teammate Bender. Plank's appearance in the 1914 World Series was the final postseason game of his career.

The World Series shifted to Boston for Game 3 after a travel day. The Braves continued to roll out their Big Three as Lefty Tyler took the bump. The A's countered with the youngster Bullet Joe Bush. In his second full season, had finished strong with a 2.15 ERA over his final 12 outings (eight starts). He had rose to fame in the previous year's World Series after shutting down the Giants to swing a 1-1 series in the favor of the A's.

Rather than play in the Braves' usual home of the South End Grounds, the series was shifted to Fenway Park to accommodate a bigger crowd. With over 35,000 on hand, it was the road team again jumping out to an early lead. An error on the defensively challenge Joe Connolly led to a run to give Philadelphia's its first lead of the Series. Hank Gowdy tied it up in the second with a double that scored Rabbit Maranville. Again, the A's took a one-run lead in the fourth and again, the Braves came roaring back with Maranville driving in a run. It remained 2-2 until the tenth. With Home Run Baker at the plate and the bases loaded, Tyler pitched carefully to the big hitter, but couldn't retire him. Baker singled passed Johnny Evers to score a pair of runs and for the third time, the A's had the lead.

In the bottom of the tenth, the Boston quickly got one of the runs back courtesy of a Hank Gowdy homerun. Herbie Moran walked with one out and advanced to third on an Evers single. That would become key as Connolly followed with a flyball to center that was deep enough to score the run and tie the game up again.

By Bain (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Bill James, who had just thrown a shutout two days before, replaced Tyler on the mound after the latter had been pinch-hit for. Despite some control issues, James powered through the A's lineup to add two scoreless frames to his already impressive World Series stats. In the bottom of the 12th, it was that guy again as Hank Gowdy hit a ground-rule double. Les Mann would run for him and after an intentional walk, Moran stepped to the plate. Stallings called a bunt to try to get the runner to third and give Evers and Connolly, who would follow Moran, a chance to win it. Instead, Bush tried to nail Gowdy at third. The throw got away and Gowdy scampered home to score the walkoff run.

It was deflating for the A's. Three times, they had taken a lead on the Braves only to watch the never-say-die kids from Boston come back each time. A day later, the A's were looking for answers and a chance to extend the series. Stallings once again stuck to his Big Three with Dick Rudolph getting the ball. Mack countered with young Bob Shawkey. He stuck with his lineup, believing it would finally work.

After both pitchers traded goose-eggs for the first three innings, Butch Schmidt singled in Evers to put Boston on top. Shawkey took matters in his own hands and doubled in a run to tie it in the fifth, but Rudolph got him back in the bottom half. With two outs and Shawkey trying to finish off a quiet frame, Rudolph kept the inning alive with a single. The right-hander reached third on a Herbie Moran double. The next batters was Evers. Earlier in the season, he had been challenged to play better and the Braves captain came through then. He would also come through that Tuesday afternoon with a two-run single. Once again, the Braves were on top and saw the finish line.

The A's seemed powerless to stop Boston. Rudolph rolled through Eddie Collins and Home Run Baker in the sixth. In the seventh, Rudolph got himself into trouble with a walk and wild pitch, but was bailed out by - who else? - Gowdy. After Rudolph struck out Jack Barry, Gowdy threw down to second to nail the runner straying too far from the base. In the eighth, Rudolph efficiently recorded three outs for an easy inning. Collins and Baker, two of the best hitters in the game, got last shot at redemption in the ninth, but Collins stuck-out while Baker grounded out to Evers. Stuffy McInnis was the A's last hope. Hit smacked a grounder to third where Charlie Deal picked it and fired to first to win the game - and the World Series!

The Miracle Braves' season was finally complete. They had clawed their way from the bottom to the top of the mountain while taking down the Giants and A's in the process. There was a belief that the Boston Braves were on the cusp of a dynasty to rival the glory days of the late 1880's and 90's.

That, unfortunately, would never come to fruition.

(In the final part, I'll look at suspicions of a fix and why the Braves weren't able to keep up the momentum into 1915 and beyond.)

Seasons in Time: 1914

Part 1 - Prologue
Part 2 - The Road Trip that Wouldn't End
Part 3 - Finding Their Footing
Part 4 - Unfazed on the Biggest Stage
Part 5 - Epilogue

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