That’s what Cait Murphy dubbed the 1908 season in her lovingly documented, exquisitly detailed ode to baseball in her 2007 book, Crazy ’08. She might be right, though it takes some courage to make such a bold statement, in view of compelling arguments from committed fans of any team you might pick about a particular season where their team was in the mix. Like the 1950 Phillies’ season. Murphy’s book is a delight on many counts, not least the resurrection of long forgotten doggerel that spiced early 20th century sportswriters’ pages – such as Grantland Rice’s parody of Edgar Alan Poe that ends with the line: Quoth the Raven: “What’s the score?”
Murphy’s book also includes a photo of Three-finger (29-9 in ’08) Brown’s mutilated pitching hand. The hand that pitched the Cubs to a pennant winning, enormously satisfying, 4-2 triumph over the nearly peerless Christy (37-11) Mathewson on October 8th in New York. The game was a makeup of the September 23 game that was ruled a 1-1 tie when league president Henry Pulliam ruled that Fred Merkle was out for failing to touch second base on a walkoff hit that the Giants’ thought had scored the winning run from third base. Despite all the evidence that Merkle was simply following standard practice, heretofore condoned by umpires, Merkle is forever tagged as “Bonehead” Merkle.
Murphy’s main argument centers around the fact that the 1908 season wound down with both the American and National leagues entangled in three-team races not settled until the final day. Neither Philadelphia team was in it at the end, though the Phillies role in the final outcome was not insignificant. After a July series in Pittsburgh with the contending Pirates, to quote Murphy: “The Pirates lose three in a row to the fifth-place Phillies, in ways that are so ugly to behold that their usually kind band of fans laugh at them.” Leaving Pittsburgh for Chicago, in blistering July heat, the Phillies take four of six from the Cubs, causing the Chicago Tribune to whine about the “man-eating Quakers.” On the year, the 4th place Phillies were 13-9 against the Champions, 9-13 against the Pirates, and 6-16 versus the Giants.
In the American league, on October 5th, the White Sox’ Big Ed Walsh beat Detroit for his 40th win, but couldn’t lift his arm the next day after pitching in 13 of the last 16 games, and the Tigers won the pennant by 1 ½ games over the Sox and by ½ game over the Cleveland Naps.
Ty Cobb hit .368 in the World’s Series, but the Cubs prevailed 4-1 behind Three finger Brown and Orval Overall who each won two games with a shutout apiece. For the second year in a row the final game of the World’s Series was a shutout loss for Tiger pitcher Wild Bill Donovan.
But for all of its on-the-field excitement, possibly the most enduring contribution to baseball lore in 1908, was introduction of the wildly popular song, “Take Me Out To the Ballgame.” Cait Murphy might add that note to her claim of 1908 being the greatest year in baseball history. No other year could make that claim.By max blue
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- Bill Donovan, Chicago Cubs, Christy Mathewson, Cleveland Naps, Detroit Tigers, Ed Walsh, Fred Merkle, Mordecai Brown, Philadelphia Phillies, Three Finger, Ty Cobb