Monday, March 5, 2012

1914 World Series: The Miracle Braves

The Teams
National League: Boston Braves (94-59) - First World Series
American League: Philadelphia Athletics (99-53) - Fifth World Series (Won in 1910, 1911, 1913)

What Happened
On July 4, 1914, the Boston Braves were where many people expected them to be: in last place in the National League. After getting swept in a Fourth of July doubleheader and falling to 26-40, the Braves went on a run unlike any ever seen in baseball. Boston went 68-19 over the rest of the season, storming from last place to first. The Braves took the lead for the first time on September 8, then extended their advantage to 10 games by the end of the season. Not only was it their first National League pennant, but they were the first team other than the Cubs, Giants, or Pirates to represent the NL in the World Series.

The Braves needed all that momentum facing the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series. The A's had won the World Series three of the previous four seasons, establishing themselves as the American League's first dynasty. The A's were good, but the Braves were better, or at least had been since July 4. Boston pounded future Hall-of-Famer Chief Bender for a 7-1 win in Game 1.

After the Game 1 blowout, the series got tight. Bill James held the Athletics to just two hits in Game 2, but the Braves needed all nine innings to get on the scoreboard off Eddie Plank, scoring the game's only run with two outs in the ninth. James walked two in the bottom of the ninth, and Philadelphia's Eddie Murphy (most definitely NOT the comedian) hit a grounder up the middle that seemed destined to tie the game, but shortstop Rabbit Maranville got to the ball, stepped on second for the force, then fired to first for the game-ending double play.

They won the first two games in Philadelphia, the Braves came home in great shape. They first won Game 3 in 12 innings, overcoming a two-run deficit in the 10th, to take a commanding series lead. In Game 4, former Cub Johnny Evers hit a go-ahead two-run single in the bottom of the fifth and the score held up, giving Boston the shocking series sweep.

Supposedly, A's manager Connie Mack was so disgusted at his team's performance in the 1914 World Series that he sold all his stars rather than risk giving them raises. While it's a convenient excuse - it was the first time, but certainly wouldn't be the last, that Mack tore apart a championship team - he may have had a point. While nothing has ever been proven definitively, rumors started circulating almost immediately that the A's threw the series. There was never any good overwhelming evidence aside from the A's composite .172 average in the series, but the main reason behind the Braves' turnaround was their great pitching. They did it to the National League the entire second half, so there's no reason they couldn't have done it to the A's, too. Still, though, the Braves' sweep was so unexpected that the whispers remained.

Defining Game
Game 3 was the pivotal game of the series, with the A's desperately needing it to stay alive in the series and the Braves looking to provide the killer blow. The teams were tied at 2 entering extra innings. In the top of the 10th, the Athletics loaded the bases for Home Run Baker, who continued to live up to his clutch reputation with a two-run single. The Braves responded in the bottom of the 10th. Catcher Hank Gowdy led off the inning with a home run to center - his second extra-base hit of the game. The Braves then tied the game on a sacrifice fly. The teams played on to the 12th. After Philadelphia left two runners on base in the top of the inning, Gowdy again led off the inning in style for Boston, hitting a ground-rule double to left (the series was played at Fenway Park, where the Green Monster normally makes it impossible to hit a ground rule double to left, but an overflow crowd forced fans onto the field in front of the wall, and any ball hit into the crowd was automatically a double). After an intentional walk, the Braves tried a sacrifice bunt. A's pitcher Bullet Joe Bush - who had pitched the entire game - fielded the bunt and tried to get the lead runner at third, but he threw the ball away, allowing the winning run to score.

Any of the Braves' three pitchers could have been MVP, but the vote here goes to Gowdy. He led all series regulars with a .545 average and five extra-base hits, most of them of the clutch variety.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Boston 7 1 5 (12) 3
Philadelphia 1 0 4 1

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

83. 1914 - Boston (N) def. Philadelphia (A) 4-0
84. 1951 - New York (A) def. New York (N) 4-2
85. 1939 - New York (A) def. Cincinnati (N) 4-0
86. 1910 - Philadelphia (A) def. Chicago (N) 4-1
87. 1905 - New York (N) def. Philadelphia (A) 4-1
88. 1965 - Los Angeles (N) def. Minnesota (A) 4-3
89. 1961 - New York (A) def. Cincinnati (N) 4-1
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

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