Tuesday, May 8, 2012

1906 World Series: The Battle of Chicago

The Teams
American League: Chicago White Sox (93-58) - First World Series
National League: Chicago Cubs (116-36) - First World Series

What Happened
The 1906 Chicago Cubs were called, even by contemporary writers, the perfect team. With four of the ten best hitters in the National League and a six-man pitching rotation full of stars, they ran roughshod over the very difficult National League. When the dust had settled, they had won 116 games, a number that seemed unfathomable at the time and one that has never been bettered in baseball history.

The 1906 Chicago White Sox were ... good, I guess. They were good enough to win the American League pennant, but the league wasn't at its best that year. Known as the Hitless Wonders, the White Sox won the pennant despite hitting only seven home runs all season. They were last in the American League in hitting, yet somehow finished third in runs scored. The reason they won the pennant, though, was that like their crosstown rivals they had a pitching staff that was second to none.

The White Sox might not have gotten enough credit for being a good team, simply because their 93 wins paled in comparison to the Cubs' 116. The White Sox could pitch, while the Cubs could pitch, hit, and run. The city of Chicago was excited for the first intra-city World Series, but the White Sox fans saw the writing on the wall, and many were likely hoping that their team could simply avoid being embarrassed by the juggernaut from the West Side.

With aces Mordecai Brown (Cubs) and Nick Altrock (White Sox) matching up and snow flurries flying for Game 1, runs were going to be scarce. White Sox substitute third baseman George Rohe led off the fifth with a triple, then scored on an error on a throw home two batters later. The Sox added a run in the sixth, then gave one back on a wild pitch. That was all that Altrock allowed, and the White Sox stole a win in the Cubs' home park to take the series lead.

Game 2 was an embarrassment for the White Sox. The Cubs took a 4-0 lead on four unearned runs and the White Sox didn't get a hit off Ed Reulbach until the seventh. The Sox got a run without a hit in the fifth, but that was all, as Reulbach got the first World Series 1-hitter to tie the series. Ed Walsh responded with an even better pitching performance for the Sox the next day; he gave up 2 hits, but struck out 12 in a complete game. Rohe's two-out bases loaded triple in the 6th provided all the runs to give the White Sox the series lead yet again.

Game 4 was a rematch between the aces Altrock and Brown, and this time it was Brown who got the better of things, throwing a complete-game two-hitter for the 1-0 win. Game 5 was the wildest, sloppiest game of the series; the White Sox won despite committing six errors, overcoming an early 3-1 Cubs lead.

Through five games, the road team had won every game of the series, the first time that had happened and the last time it would happen until 1996. With that pattern, Game 6 should have been the Cubs' to win, but player-manager Frank Chance pushed the odds by bringing back Brown on just one day of rest. The result was a disaster, with the White Sox scoring seven runs in the first two innings to knock the great Brown out of the game early. The Cubs were shell-shocked. They had won 116 games in the far superior league, but they couldn't win more than two against their cross-town rivals. The White Sox finished off the series with an 8-3 win, completing the stunning upset in six games.

Defining Game
It was an era where five runs in a game constituted an offensive explosion, in a World Series between the two best pitching teams playing in the best pitchers' ballparks in the game, so seeing an 8-6 final score in this series is very bizarre. Walsh and Reulbach had been very good in their first starts in this series, giving up a combined three hits, but this one turned into a farce early. The White Sox got one run in the first, but left the bases loaded. The Cubs responded with three in the bottom of the inning, scoring twice when a double play ball turned into a throwing error and a third on a throwing error on a bunt. The White Sox tied the game in the third, getting two straight ground-rule doubles to knock Reulbach out of the box, then tying the game on George Davis' steal of home. The White Sox' four-run fourth essentially ended things, though the Cubs made things interesting by cutting it to 8-6. But Doc White, pitching in relief, shut things down for the final three innings to put the White Sox one win from the title.

It'd be easy to pick a pitcher, considering the collective series batting average was .197 and neither team hit a home run. But Rohe, normally the White Sox backup third baseman, became a star in this series, with seven hits, including two triples and two stolen bases. He was the type of unknown star that makes baseball unique: he had played only 125 career games before the series, and he only played one more season in the Majors after the series. Nobody had heard of him before the series, he became a star for six games, and then he promptly disappeared.

Random Fact

This was the third straight World Series matchup between two franchises who had not yet played in the World Series. There hasn't been one since, and, barring expansion, there cannot be another one unless Seattle and Washington meet.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Chicago (A) 213 088
Chicago (N) 170 163

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

64. 1906 - Chicago (A) def. Chicago (N) 4-2
65. 1981 - Los Angeles (N) def. New York (A) 4-2
66. 1943 - New York (A) def. St. Louis (N) 4-1
67. 1954 - New York (N) def. Cleveland (A) 4-0
68. 1978 - New York (A) def. Los Angeles (N) 4-2
69. 2006 - St. Louis (N) def. Detroit (A) 4-1
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

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