Baseball Judgments

Baseball Judgments |
Cementing baseball as the national pastime: 1910-1920


By Roger Weber


On Opening Day 1910 President William Howard Taft supposedly invented the seventh inning stretch. See “Baseball Music” for a more detailed explanation of the real story. Also at the start of the same season, legendary Comiskey Park opened in Chicago with the ability to seat over 45,000.


In 1910, two of the usual powers regained dominance. The Chicago Cubs reasserted themselves at the top of the National League, winning their fourth pennant in five years, and the Philadelphia Athletics won the American League by 14.5 games. For Philadelphia, pitcher Jack Coombs finished the year with a 1.30 ERA and 31 wins, the most in the American League. Coombs would win three games in the World Series, and the Athletics cruised to a 4-1 series win.


1911 was an eventful season. On April 14, the Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants, caught fire and was extensively damaged. The Giants played the remainder of the season at Highlander Park, home of the Yankees. Such an event would hurt many teams, but not the Giants. Behind the pitching of Christy Matthewson and Rube Marquard, they won the National League by 7.5 games. This feat was even more incredible since the second place Cubs, in addition to pitcher Three Finger Brown, were now led by power hitting third baseman Jim Doyle. He led the Major Leagues in home runs in 1911 with 21.


The American League also had an exciting year. Once again, the Philadelphia Athletics won the league title behind the pitching of Jack Coombs and Eddie Plank. The Giants won the league by 13.5 games, but second place Detroit and third place Cleveland each boasted one of the game's premier players ever to play. For Detroit, veteran Ty Cobb hit .420 with 83 stolen bases, each a league best. A young, rising star on the Indians by the name of Joe Jackson caught everyone's attention, though. Jackson hit .408 in 1911, and would soon become one baseball's best.


In the World Series, the Athletics held the Giants to a .175 batting average, and won in six games.


1912 began with the opening of several new ballparks. Tiger Stadium, Fenway Park, and Crosley Field were marvels of structure and design. Only one of the three teams who played in these ballparks, though, made it to the World Series. That one team was the Boston Red Sox.


In the American League, three great pitchers headed the top three teams. Eddie Plank led third place Philadelphia, and Walter Johnson led second place Washington. Clearly the top starter was a newcomer to stardom, Smokey Joe Wood, who finished 34-5, with a 1.91 ERA. His Red Sox stole the crown from the Athletics, and won the league by 14 games. On offense, they were led by Tris Speaker, who batted .383, with 52 stolen bases and 10 home runs. Ty Cobb and "Shoeless" Joe Jackson were expected to lead the league, but their respective teams finished sixth and fifth. In the National League, the New York Giants stayed atop the league, but once again fell in the World Series, this time 4 games to 3 games, with one tie due to darkness.


In 1913, order was restored. The American League was won by the Philadelphia Athletics, but Washington gave them a good run. The Sentators' were led by quickly blossoming star pitcher Walter Johnson, who finished 36-7, with a 1.14 ERA. Cleveland, led by the tandem of Nap Lajoie and Joe Jackson, finished third. The New York Giants once again won the National League, though the Philadelphia Phillies emerged as a potential contender. They were led by pitchers Tom Seaton and Grover "Pete" Alexander. Each won over 20 games. On offense for the Phils, Gavvy Vravath hit a league leading 19 home runs and had a .341 batting average. For the third straight year, the Giants lost in the World Series, this time to Philadelphia.


The 1914 season saw a remarkable change. In addition to the building of Wrigley Field, a new major league was formed, the Federal League. The eight team league would last just two years, but attracted many members of the other two leagues to come over. In 1914, Indianapolis won the Federal League title.


The American League, in 1914, was won by Philadelphia. The American League had not lost as much talent to the new league as had the National, but relatively little excitement occurred in 1914 within the American League. No player batted higher than Ty Cobb's .368, and Cleveland's tandem led the Indians to finish last in the league.


The National League experienced a more exciting season. The New York Giants looked well on their way to the pennant, and the Boston Braves were in last place as of July 18, but the Braves came back, winning 34 of 44 games to take over first place on September 2. They amazingly ended up winning the league by 10.5 games. No single player can be attributed with the credit for the success, but somehow the Miracle Braves won the pennant, and swept the World Series. The Braves would go on to win one World Series in each of the three cities they inhabited, Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta.


1915 was the final season for the Federal League. Indianapolis had won in 1914, but left the league by 1915. Three teams – Chicago, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh, - all finished within a half game of one another, Chicago eventually winning out. After the conclusion of the season, though, mounting losses and a potential American entry into World War I forced the Federal League to disband.


In the American League in 1915, Ty Cobb's Detroit Tigers finally started winning. Despite their 100 wins, though, Boston was able to win the league by 2.5 games. The Red Sox, now led by Tris Speaker, hit just 14 home runs as a team, but relied on their brilliant pitching staff, which was led by a 20 year old lefty by the name of George Herman Ruth. On the other side of the league, the previously great Philadelphia Athletics finished in last place, as one of the worst teams of all time. They finished 58.5 games out of first, with a 43-109 record. The other Philadelphia team, the Phillies had great success, winning the National League by 7 games. Pete Alexander won 31 games, and Gavvy Cravath hit a league leading 24 home runs. The Boston Braves proved 1914 wasn't a fluke by finishing second. In the World Series, the Red Sox defeated the Phillies 4 games to 1.


The Red Sox won again in 1916, but by just two games. This time, Babe Ruth won 23 games and had a 1.75 ERA. The White Sox, though, almost pulled off the upset, as they were now led by Joe Jackson, who hit .341 in 1916. Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics had an even worse season than the year before. Starting pitchers Jack Nabors and Tom Sheehan finished 1-18 and 1-16 respectively. The Athletics won just 36 games and had a .235 winning percentage. They finished 40 games behind seventh place. In the National League, Brooklyn finished on top, but was closely followed by Philadelphia. For the Phillies, Pete Alexander recorded 16 shutouts, 33 wins, and a 1.55 ERA. New York also made a run at the Dodgers, winning 26 in a row at home at one point. The Dodgers held on to win the league, but couldn't challenge the mighty Red Sox in the World Series, losing 4 games to 1.


In 1917, the White Sox capped a three year building process, winning the American League and the World Series. Babe Ruth and Boston finished second, nine games behind the Sox. In the National League, New York Giants' manager John McGraw earned the nickname "Little Napoleon" for his ability to switch players. He led the Giants back to the World Series, but the White Sox and Eddie Collins were too much. Chicago won 4 games to 2.


In 1918, baseball was left with many new players, as many of the old ones were sent off to World War I in Europe. Two great American Leaguers stayed home, though, Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb. Cobb won his eleventh batting title, but his Tigers finished in seventh place. Ruth was moved into the starting lineup on offense, and hit .300, leading the Red Sox the the A.L. crown. The Cubs made a fantastic return to glory in the National League, but fell short in the World Series to the Red Sox 4 games to 2. The Red Sox would not win another World Series until 2004.


Before the 1919 season, the World Series was again expanded to a best-of-nine format. This policy would stay in place through 1921.


1919 was a year marred by scandal. The Chicago White Sox impressively won the American League, and were led by Joe Jackson, who batted .35, and Eddie Cicotte's 29-7 pitching record. The Sox fought down to the wire to win the league. The National League Champion Cincinnati Reds didn't have as many problems. Edd Roush led the league in batting average, and the Reds won 96 games. At the bottom of the majors were the Philadelphia A's once again. They finished 36-104, easily one of the worst records in history.


The World Series is what made 1919 famous, though. The Reds won 5 games to 3, but seven White Sox' players had received 100,000 dollars to "throw" the series. Whether they actually did is up to debate, as Joe Jackson hit .375 in the series. The supposed losing of the series, though, came by missing critical plays and intentionally poor pitching. The scandal did much damage to the game as a whole. For the first time, the motives for the athletes had to be considered. Eight White Sox were ordered to never play again as a result of their actions. The whole White Sox organization was scarred though, and would not win another World Series for many, many years. Some claimed they were cursed.


During the offseason before 1920, another historic deal was struck. Red Sox superstar Babe Ruth was traded to the New York Yankees for 125,000 dollars, a great deal for the Yankees. Ruth was coming off of his best season, in which he set a major league record with 29 home runs. The Red Sox had debt to pay off, though, and figured the move would be a positive. It turned out to be a terrible move, though, and for 86 years, the Red Sox were deemed to be cursed by the Bambino.


The period from 1910 to 1919 saw remarkable changes in the game. These great years ended on a sour note, but truly had been constructive years for baseball. Unfortunately, many of the great players like Wagner, and Lajoie were retiring, and new stars would have to emerge to keep baseball popular. Luckily, they did.


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