Thursday, September 20, 2012

1915 World Series: Stadium Games

The Teams
American League: Boston Red Sox (101-50) - Third World Series (Won in 1903, 1912)
National League: Philadelphia Phillies (90-62) - First World Series

What Happened
There were lots of curious decisions in World Series games in the early part of the 20th Century. Some, like the continuous, almost obsessive sacrifice strategies, were simply a sign of the times. Others, like putting your best player on the bench for most of the series, made no sense whatsoever.

Two other common ones from that era were to let in as many fans as possible for big games, then have the extras stand behind ropes strung along the edge of the outfield. Yah ... that wouldn't happen now. The other was switching stadiums for big games. This could only happen in cities with two Major League teams, but it happened. It was really a Boston thing - when the Braves won the National League pennant, they rented out Fenway Park for the World Series because Fenway had more seating than the Braves' South End Grounds. The Red Sox made the World Series in 1915, and they copied their neighbors, renting out the brand-new Braves Field to take advantage of a larger capacity.

Like their Boston counterparts, the two Philadelphia teams made the World Series back-to-back in 1914 and 15, but they weren't about to switch stadiums. The Phillies of 1915 built their team to take advantage of the short right-field fence of the Baker Bowl. They had powerful lefthanded hitters who seemed born to play there, and the result was the first pennant in franchise history.

A big reason for their league title was the pitching of Pete Alexander. Alexander won pitching's triple crown in 1915, including the jaw-dropping numbers of 31 wins and a 1.22 ERA. Alexander beat the Red Sox in Game 1, giving up only 1 run while getting some help from the weather; three Philadelphia grounders got stuck in the mud, turning into hits when they should have been easy outs. The Red Sox won Game 2 when pitcher Rube Foster gave up only three hits while getting three hits on his own, including one that drove in the game-winning run in the 9th.

After splitting in Philadelphia, Boston went to their home away from home in Braves Field, where they took full advantage of their borrowed home. While Braves Field had a larger capacity than Fenway Park, it also had much a much larger outfield, which played right into Boston's hands. Boston's outfield of Duffy Lewis (lf), Tris Speaker (cf), and Harry Hooper is still considered the best in baseball history, and with the wide open fields in the Braves Field outfield, they had plenty of opportunity to show off their stuff.

Taking full advantage was Lewis, who turned the rest of the series into his own personal highlight reel - you know, if there had been television back then. With a run already in and two on in the third, Philadelphia slugger Gavvy Cravath blasted one deep to left field. In Fenway Park, it would have bounced off the wall, making it 3-0. In Braves Field, though, it turned into an out in Lewis' glove, as he ran it down in front of the wall. Then in the bottom of the 9th, with the game tied at 1 and runners on second and third, Alexander chose to pitch to Lewis rather than walk him to set up a force play, and Lewis responded with a single up the middle to win the game. In Game 4, he made two great running catches - again, both on balls that would have been doubles in Fenway, and drove in yet another run in a 2-1 win.

Leading the series 3-1, the Red Sox traveled back to Philadelphia, where the Phillies had oversold tickets for Game 5. This required fans to stand behind a rope in the outfield, cutting down on the Baker Bowl's already small dimensions. And while the Phillies owners' made some extra cash, the Red Sox took full advantage. The ground rule was that the rope would then become like the outfield wall, and Boston hit three balls into the crowd for their only three home runs of the series (one of them bounced into the crowd, but back then, balls we know as ground rule doubles were ruled as home runs). It was when the home runs were hit, too, that hurt the most; Lewis tied the game with a two-run home run in the 8th, and then Hooper won it with a solo shot in the top of the 9th. The Red Sox had won their third championship, and would win two more before the decade was up. It would take the Phillies 35 years to even win an NL pennant, and 65 years to win a World Series.

Lewis would have been an easy choice, as he drove in 5 runs (out of only 11 that Boston scored) and saved at least three with his glove (in games the Phillies only scored 1). He also batted .444.

Random Fact
Babe Ruth played for this Red Sox team. A full-time player, even. And yet, I'm only mentioning him now. Why? Because he had but a single pinch-hitting appearance in the series. No starts as a pitcher, just one single at bat as a hitter. I mean, I don't even know what to say.

Scores (Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Philadelphia311 14
Boston 1222 5

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

24. 1915 - Boston (A) def. Philadelphia (N) 4-1
25. 1971 - Pittsburgh (N) def. Baltimore (A) 4-3
26. 1918 - Boston (A) def. Chicago (N) 4-2
27. 1988 - Los Angeles (N) def. Oakland (A) 4-1
28. 1946 - St. Louis (N) def. Boston (A) 4-3
29. 1925 - Pittsburgh (N) def. Washington (A) 4-3
Numbers 30-39
Numbers 40-49
Numbers 50-59
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

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