Friday, September 7, 2012

1925 World Series: The Big Train, Stuck in the Mud

The Teams
National League: Pittsburgh Pirates (95-58) - Fourth World Series (won in 1909)
American League: Washington Senators (96-55) - Second World Series (won in 1924)

What Happened
The rain was pouring down in the sixth inning of Game 7. The field was a quagmire, and visibility was so poor that you couldn't see the outfielders from  home plate. With the Senators leading 6-4 and the rain showing no sign of letting up, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis turned to Washington owner Clark Griffith and said "Congratulations, you're World Champions. I'm calling this game."

Had that decision stuck, it would have been the first logical thing Landis did that day, however unpopular a rain-shortened seventh game might have been. The truth of the matter is that the game never should have been played in the first place. The rain had started before the first pitch, and the grounds crew was using sawdust in an attempt to mop up puddles in the infield before the teams even took the field. But Landis didn't want to disappoint the fans who had braved the elements to see a Game 7, so the game was played as scheduled.

It quickly turned into a farce. After three walks, two wild pitches, and a throwing error, the Senators had a 4-0 lead before the Pirates even came to bat. They then handed the soaking wet ball to the great Walter Johnson, who had already shut down the Pirates twice in the series. But even the Big Train wasn't immune to the elements. Before too long, the combination of sawdust and mud made the American League's greatest pitcher look like he was covered in oatmeal in what would become the last postseason game of his career.

The Pirates got scored three runs off Johnson in the third, saw Washington get two runs back in the fourth, then scored one in the fifth. That put the score at 6-4 in the sixth inning, when Landis decided he had seen enough. Except Griffith wasn't having any of it. He didn't want to win the title in a rain-shortened game for fear it would be considered tainted. He declined the commissioner's offer, and the teams played on.

He should have taken the offer. Washington shortstop Roger Peckinpagh dropped a popup while slipping in the mud to open up the bottom of the seventh, opening the floodgates; the damage only stopped when, after hitting a game-tying triple, Pittsburgh's Pie Traynor was thrown out trying to stretch it into a home run. Peckinpagh redeemed himself by hitting a home run in the top of the eighth, but it all fell apart in the bottom of the inning. After two straight outs, the Pirates hit two straight doubles to tie the game. After a walk, Peckinpagh committed a throwing error on what should have been the final out, loading the bases.

Then came the strangest World Series-winning hit in history. Kiki Cuyler lifted a deep flyball down the left field line ... and the umpires lost track of where it went. Remember, the outfielders couldn't see home plate most of the game, so tracking a white - ok, mud-covered - baseball must have been impossible. When the umpires couldn't track Cuyler's hit, they decided it must have bounced into the crowd for a ground-rule double. The problem was, it was a foul ball. We know this because Washington left fielder Goose Goslin watched it land in foul territory, then stick in the mud. The umpires weren't moved, however - maybe they couldn't see Goslin arguing? - and the call stood. After Washington went down in order in the ninth, the Pirates were the World Champions.


The muddy and controversial end to Game 7 has been overshadowed over the years by a single play by Washington outfielder Sam Rice in Game 3. With Washington clinging to a 4-3 lead, Earl Smith hit a blast to deep right center which Rice tracked down and got to just as he was falling over the wall and into the stands. For several moments, nobody knew what had happened, until finally Rice emerged from the crowd holding the ball. With no evidence to the contrary, the umpires ruled it a catch, one that helped Washington win the game. For years afterwards, Rice wouldn't say whether he held onto the ball, saying only that he would someday. When he died in 1974, among his possessions was a sealed letter from Rice, stating that at no point did he let go of the ball.

Had Griffith accepted Landis' offer and ended Game 7 in the 6th inning, Johnson would have been the undoubted MVP. After striking out 10 in a Game 1 victory, he threw a shutout in Game 4 to give the Senators a 3-1 series lead. But two straight Pirate made Game 7 necessary, and in Game 7, Johnson finally ran out of luck. Or, he ran out of good weather. Instead, the award goes to Pittsburgh's speedy center fielder Max Carey. He led all players with a .458 average and 3 stolen bases and was the best player on the field in Game 7, going 4-for-5 with three doubles off Johnson and scoring the tying run in the seventh and the game's final run in the ninth.
(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Washington 4244 327
Pittsburgh 133 0639

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

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

Game 7s
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:

9. 1925: Pittsburgh 9, Washington 7
12. 1979: Pittsburgh 4, Baltimore 1
13. 1955: Brooklyn 2, New York (A) 0
16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
18. 1987: Minnesota 4, St. Louis 2
19. 1958: New York 6, Milwaukee 2
21. 1968: Detroit 4, St. Louis 1
22. 1931: St. Louis (N) 4, Philadelphia (A) 2
26. 1982: St. Louis 6, Milwaukee 3
28. 1965: Los Angeles (A) 2, Minnesota 0
29. 1964: St. Louis 7, New York (A) 5
30. 1957: Milwaukee 5, New York (A) 0
31. 1967: St. Louis 7, Boston 2
32. 1945: Detroit 9, Chicago (N) 3
33. 1909: Pittsburgh 8, Detroit 0
34. 1934: St. Louis (N) 11, Detroit 0 
36. 1985: Kansas City 11, St. Louis 0

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