Saturday, October 16, 2010

October 16, 1912: Snodgrass' Muff

BOSTON - On the afternoon of October 16, 1912, just over 17,000 fans filed into Fenway Park in Boston for the final game of the World Series. The series had been the closest and most competitive one in the short history of the championship, yet Fenway Park was only about half full for the finale.

One reason given for that was the short notice that the game would happen at all, as this was an unscheduled game 8 - game 2 had been a tie - and the location of the game had been determined by a coin flip the day before. Another reason given, though, was the suspicion by fans that the Red Sox had thrown the previous two games. Leading the series 3 games to 1, with the 1 tie as well, the Red Sox had gotten pounded in the next two games, giving up five runs in the first inning of game 6 and six runs in the first inning of game 7.

That led to a tied series and a decisive game 8. The Giants sent their legend, hall-of-famer Christy Mathewson, to the mound; the Red Sox, who had used ace Smoky Joe Wood in the game 7 debacle, answered with Hugh Bedient, who had beaten Mathewson in game 5. BELOW: Mathewson warming up before game 8

The game started sloppily, as both teams committed an error in the first inning and the Red Sox added two in the second. However, nobody scored until the Giants pushed one across in the top of the third. After getting that precious run, Mathewson retired the next 10 Boston hitters, and it looked for all the world that the one run would be enough.

Boston finally threatened in the bottom of the sixth, getting runners on first and third before Mathewson ended the inning with a pickoff. The Red Sox threatened again in the seventh, finally pushing across the tying run with a pinch-hit double by Olaf Henriksen.

With Bedient out of the game, Boston turned to Wood, the most dominant pitcher in baseball in 1912. Wood went 34-5 during the season, setting the American League record for consecutive wins, including a legendary 1-0 victory over Washington's Walter Johnson in September. Though Wood had gotten pounded the previous day, he was much better in relief on this day, getting through the eighth and ninth without difficulty. Mathewson, meanwhile, was just as tough, and the game went to the 10th, the first time the World Series would be decided in extra innings in the final game.

In the top of the 10th, Wood blinked. A one out double was followed by a single by Fred Merkle (of "Merkle's Boner" infamy), and the Giants took the lead. They were three outs from the title with the winningest pitcher in National League history on the mound.

Clyde Engle led off the 10th for Boston pinch-hitting for Wood. He lifted a lazy flyball to center that Fred Snodgrass camped underneath. The ball hit his glove, then inexplicably fell to the ground for a two-base error. Snodgrass seemingly made up for his error when the next batter, Harry Hooper, followed with a deep drive to center that Snodgrass caught on the run, an absolutely brilliant play. Engle advanced to third on Hooper's flyball and stayed there as Steve Yerkes walked, bringing up Tris Speaker.

Speaker was Boston's best hitter, a future hall of famer himself. He was a truly dangerous hitter to have up with the World Series on the line. The Giants must have breathed a sigh of relief when Speaker popped foul along the first base line. The ball was closer to first base than to home plate, but Mathewson reportedly called out for his catcher, Chief Meyers, to catch it. Meyers ran with all he could but couldn't get there, letting the ball drop foul. Given a reprieve, Speaker then laced a single to right to score the tying run.

After an intentional walk, Larry Gardner came up with the bases loaded and one out. Gardner heroically flied out to right, deep enough to score Yerkes with the World Series winning run.


After the series, Snodgrass' error in the 10th became known as the $30,000 Muff, as that was the difference between the winners' share and the losers' share for the World Series. While it's true that the runner who reached because of his error scored the tying run, his brilliant catch on the next batter easily made up for that. Had the plays been reversed - i.e., had Snodgrass caught the easy flyball but been unable to run down Hooper's hit - the Red Sox still likely would have had a runner on third with one out. Unfortunately, somebody had to get the blame for the Giants' loss. The blame could have been placed on Mathewson, whose decision to call for Meyers to catch Speaker's pop-up probably did more damage to his team than Snodgrass' error. But Giant fans saw Mathewson as a saint, a near-Messianic figure who could do no wrong. Snodgrass was just a 24-year-old centerfielder. He was easy to blame. So like Fred Merkle before him, Snodgrass became the fall guy. He never lived down his mistake, being remembered even on the day he died as the man who dropped the flyball in the World Series.

October 16, 1962: SAN FRANCISCO - While the Giants had great success in New York, they haven't been able to match that since moving across the country to San Francisco. The Giants haven't won the World Series since their move west in 1958. But they've come close. In 1962, they pushed the Yankees to a game 7 in the World Series, and the Giants entered the ninth inning trailing 1-0. With a runner on first and two outs, Willie Mays ripped a double to right field, putting runners on second and third with Willie McCovey coming up. Even though first base was open, the Yankees elected to pitch to McCovey, a decision that seemed like a terrible mistake when he crushed a line drive towards right center. But Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson was in the way, catching McCovey's liner to end the series. Two feet higher, and the Giants would have been celebrating. Instead, San Francisco still waits.

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