Wednesday, October 31, 2012

1912 World Series: Snodgrass' Muff

The Teams
American League: Boston Red Sox (105-47) - Second World Series (Won in 1903)
National League: New York Giants (103-48) - Third World Series (Won in 1905)

What Happened
The Giants had just taken the lead in the eighth and deciding game of the World Series, and the great Christy Mathewson trudged to the mound for his 10th inning of work, three outs away from giving the Giants their second title. Clyde Engle led off the inning for Boston, pinch-hitting for Smoky Joe Wood. Wood had pitched four times in the series after putting in a season for the ages in 1912 - a 34-5 record, including an American League-record 16 consecutive wins. After his sublime season, Wood had a disappointing World Series - fatigue? 22-year-old nerves? - and now was in line for the loss, coming so close, but yet so far. Mathewson got Engle to hit a lazy fly ball to center field. Fred Snodgrass called for it, waited for it, got his glove on it ... and dropped it.

There was nothing complicated about it, no excuse or explanation. He just dropped the ball. Instead of being down one with one out and nobody on base, the Red Sox had the tying run on second with nobody out. The inning wasn't over yet, but it was already obvious that Boston had just received a series-changing break, that Snodgrass' Muff was destined to be the play that was forever remembered about the 1912 World Series.

The drop was so devastating, so unexpected, that it overshadowed what happened next: Harry Hooper ripped a line drive to deep center field, over Snodgrass' head. He turned, ran, and tracked it down, making one of the greatest catches in World Series history, probably the greatest catch until Willie Mays in 1954. It was a hit that should have scored the series-tying run, and perhaps Hooper would have come around on a series-ending inside-the-park home run. Instead, Engle could only advance to third.

In reality, that play should have cancelled out Snodgrass' error one batter earlier. After all, the end result was the same: the Red Sox had a runner on third with one out. That would have happened if he had caught Engle's easy pop up but failed to track down Hooper's hit. Instead, though, he dropped the easy one, and people remembered him for it.

After Snodgrass' great catch, Mathewson made a potentially fatal mistake - he walked Steve Yerkes ahead of Tris Speaker. Speaker was either the best or second-best hitter in the American League at the time, depending on what you thought about Ty Cobb, so to walk the guy in front of him - and to put the World Series-winning run on base to boot - was simply terrible execution at the absolute wrong time. That was not something befitting the great Mathewson.

What happened next wasn't either. Speaker lifted a pop up in foul territory, between home and first. For whatever reason, first baseman Fred Merkle didn't move, just staring at the ball that should have been his to catch. Mathewson had a reasonable chance to run over to catch it, too, but instead called for slow-footed catcher Chief Meyers to catch it. Meyers gave it his all, but the ball fell just inches from his glove. Speaker was still alive, and he took advantage, ripping the next pitch for a double that tied the game.

After an intentional walk to load the bases, Larry Gardner came up for Boston with the series on the line. All he had to do was put the ball in play and avoid a double play. He did exactly that, lifting a fly ball to right field. Josh Devore caught the ball in good throwing position and made a strong throw, but he never had a chance. It was just hit too deep. Yerkes came across with the series-winning run. Boston celebrated their improbable comeback, while Mathewson trudged off the mound, once again a hard-luck World Series loser.

Immediately after the game, and for the decades that followed, all the talk about the series centered around Snodgrass' error in the top of the 100th. That one play has overshadowed everything else that happened in what was the sixth best World Series ever played. Nobody remembered the great Wood striking out two Giants with two on in the ninth inning to preserve a Game 1 victory, or Speaker hitting a game-tying near-inside-the-park home run (officially called a triple and an error after the catcher dropped the throw) to salvage a tie in Game 2. Nobody remembers Devore running down Hick Cady's blast to deep right center for the final out of Game 3, or the back-to-back masterpieces by Wood and rookie Hugh Bedient to put the Red Sox on the brink of the title.

No, the memories from this series revolve around one play. Even now, 100 years after this series was played and 38 years after his death, Fred Snodgrass is remembered only for dropping a fly ball in the 10th inning of the final game of the 1912 World Series.

Speaker was the top hitter for the Red Sox in the series, and his double in the final inning was the biggest hit of that October. He probably would have been the choice. But a dark horse candidate would have been Bedient. Seen as Boston's third-best pitcher, he twice faced off in starts against Mathewson, beating him in Game 5 and pitching him to a draw before being lifted for a pinch hitter in Game 8. He might not have been named MVP, as he won only one game in the series, but Hugh Bedient deserves mention for twice staring down the best pitcher in National League history and refusing to blink.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

New York362 115112
Boston4 6 (11)132243 (10)

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

6. 1912 - Boston (A) def. New York (N) 4-3 (1 tie)
7. 1992 - Toronto (A) def. Atlanta (N) 4-2
8. 1947 - New York (A) def. Brooklyn (N) 4-3
9. 1972 - Oakland (A) def. Cincinnati (N) 4-3
Numbers 10-19
Numbers 20-29
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:

3. 1960: Pittsburgh 10, New York (A) 9
5. 1997: Florida 3, Cleveland 2
6. 1912: Boston (A) 3, New York (N) 2 (game 8)
7. 1946: St. Louis (N) 4, Boston (A) 3
9. 1925: Pittsburgh 9, Washington 7
10. 1926: St. Louis (N) 3, New York (A) 2
11. 1962: New York (A) 1, San Francisco 0
12. 1979: Pittsburgh 4, Baltimore 1
13. 1955: Brooklyn 2, New York (A) 0
14. 1952: New York (A) 4, Brooklyn 2
15. 1971: Pittsburgh 2, Baltimore 1
16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
17. 1972: Oakland 3, Cincinnati 2
18. 1987: Minnesota 4, St. Louis 2
19. 1958: New York 6, Milwaukee 2
20. 1986: New York (N) 8, Boston 5 
21. 1968: Detroit 4, St. Louis 1
22. 1931: St. Louis (N) 4, Philadelphia (A) 2
23. 1973: Oakland 5, New York (N) 2
24. 2002: Anaheim 4, San Francisco 1
25. 1982: St. Louis 6, Milwaukee 3
26. 1947: New York (A) 5, Brooklyn 2
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 
35. 1985: Kansas City 11, St. Louis 0
36. 1956: New York (A) 9, Brooklyn 0

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