Phillies Capture the Flag

Before the 1915 season began, the Phillies made some moves that proved crucial to the success that followed. First, they purchased  Dave Bancroft from Portland of the Pacific Coast League for $5,000. They called him “Beauty”. Beauty Bancroft played with the Phillies for six years before moving to New York in 1920 where he anchored McGraw’s infield and blossomed into a .300 hitter in the Giants’ pennant winning years of 1921, 1922, and 1923. He played with the Braves from 1924 to 1927, and with Brooklyn in 1928 and 1929. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.
In January, the Phillies traded Hans Lobert to the Giants for pitcher Al Demaree, infielder Milt Stock, and catcher Bert Adams. Second baseman Bert Niehoff came from Cincinnati in a trade for Red Dooin. Pat Moran took over as manager.

With all the pieces in place, the Phillies charged out of the gate with a six-game     
road winning streak at Boston (2), and New York (4). They extended the streak to eight with two home wins against Boston before at last losing a game to the defending World’s champion Braves.
On the next to last day of September, 1915, a gloomy Wednesday in Boston, playing at Braves Field before the usual baseball-wise and highly partisan Boston cranks, the Phillies clinched the National League pennant when “Old Pete” spun a one-hit shutout for his 31st win, and rightfielder Gavvy Cravath nailed his league-leading 24th home run with two on in the first inning off 22 game-winner Baldy Rudolf, the guy who had tamed the A’s twice in the 1914 World’s Series. Time of game: one hour and twenty eight minutes. Alex didn’t waste time. Cravath, built like a block of granite, had put on some amazing displays of long distance hitting for the Philadelphia team. Nobody in organized baseball hit balls farther than the man they call “Cactus,” although it was reported that Red Sox kid pitcher Babe Ruth came close.

It was Patsy Moran day at Braves Field, and before the game the Phillies’ manager was presented with a floral horseshoe by Massachusetts governor David I. Walsh. In attendance were several thousand people from nearby Fitchburg, Massachusetts, Moran’s hometown, as well as Red Sox manager Bill Carrigan and some of his team. The Sox were on a scouting mission for the upcoming World’s Series; they currently led Detroit by seven games in the loss column with only nine games to play. The next day, Thursday, September 30, the Red Sox clinched the American League pennant without lifting a bat when Detroit lost on their home grounds to the St. Louis Browns, a team they led in the standings by 40 games.

In 1915, the City of Philadelphia was not sure what to make of it – a Phillies pennant? You must mean the A’s. When the clinching final out in Boston was flashed on scoreboards all over town, middle-aged men were seen hugging in joy near City Hall in Center City, and close inspection of the statue of Billy Penn way up there on top revealed the trace of a smile.

 One thing was third-strike certain—the Phillies couldn’t have done it without a slope-shouldered, 28-year-old, whip-armed righthanded pitcher from Elba, Nebraska, named Grover Cleveland Alexander. They called him Alex and when they got to know him better he was “Old Pete”; by any standard, he was Alexander the Great. By the time he had completed his rookie year, 1911, with a league-leading 28 wins, 31 complete games, 7 shutouts, and 367 innings pitched, he had become one of the most feared ball-slingers in the league. In 1915 he topped all those numbers, and for good measure led the league in strikeouts (241) and earned run average (1.22). In 1915 the Phillies played 152 games, winning 90, to finish six and a half games ahead of the Boston Braves and pin a Philadelphia revenge on the team that had beaten the A’s in the 1914 World’s Series. Alexander pitched in 49 games, starting 42 and completing 36.

The 1915 baseball season, in spite of an attempt by the rogue Federal League to horn in on the fun, was proclaimed by Baseball Magazine to be one of the best in the game’s history. The members of the National Commission, established in 1903 to see to the administration of Organized Baseball, were happily counting heads for the upcoming series. The prospect of record attendance had them in a state approaching delirium. It was because at least two, and maybe three, of the games would be played in the newly constructed Braves Field, the largest ballpark ever built, with a capacity of 50,000. In Philadelphia, a team of carpenters were busy adding 2,300 box and bleacher seats to bring capacity of National League Park, on the corner of Broad and Huntington streets, with its 273-foot right field fence, to just over 20,000. It was reported that the Phillies had received more than 50,000 requests for tickets. Baseball was big and getting bigger. In the eleven World’s Series played since 1903, the total attendance for the 64 games played was near 1.6 million. Commission members could only smile at the thought of all those people willing to pay $3 for a ticket, and $5 for a box seat!

The three members of the National Commission—Garry Herrmann, chairman; John K, Tener, National League president; and Ban Johnson, American League president—convened a meeting shortly before noon on Saturday, October 2, in New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel, to make arrangements for the Series. Also present were Phillies’owner William F. Baker, Red Sox owner Joseph J. Lannin, and several other team and league officials. Herrmann read the rules by which the series would be governed, and impressed on the owners that the commission would stand back of the umpires in any action they might take to keep the games free from improper language, unfair tactics, or any other infractions of the rules detrimental to the game. Four umpires were named, two from each league; President Tener named Charles Rigler and William J. Klem, while President Johnson selected William Evans and Frank (known as “Silk”) O’Loughlin.

Lannin came to the meeting with a demand, a threat, and a chip on his shoulder. National Commission World’s Series rules required that visiting clubs be allotted 200 tickets for each game. Lannin wanted that changed. He did not request, he demanded an additional 400 tickets for his “Royal Rooters” and if denied he would refuse to play; there would be no World’s Series in 1915 if his demand was not satisfied. Phillies owner Baker sneered at this demand; he thought the idea of royalty had been settled in Philadelphia in 1776 and reminded Lannin that Boston had been part of that party as well. Philadelphia had rooters too, and Baker wanted as many as possible, Royal or not, at the games. Later it was learned that Baker came close to receiving a punch in the nose from Philadelphia Police Captain Kelly when he refused to award the Captain the 400 seats requested for the force and their friends. The National Commission settled one dispute by agreeing to award Lannin the additional 400 seats from its own allotment; the Philadelphia police were on their own.

Once the seating matter was settled, Lannin and Baker agreed that the games would begin on Friday, October 8, two days after the regular season ended. Chairman Herrmann then pulled out a shiny new quarter dollar and spun it into the air. Baker watched in silence while Lannin called “tails.” Tough luck, Joe. Staring up at him from the heavy Persian rug was the head of…drum roll please…George Washington. The first two games would be played in Philadelphia on Friday and Saturday, games three and four in Boston on Monday and Tuesday; games five and six, if necessary, on, respectively, Wednesday in Philadelphia, and Thursday in Boston. If a seventh and deciding game was needed to determine the champion, the location would be established by another coin flip.

So how did the teams match up? All questions were answered by the purple prose of New York Times baseball writer, Hugh S. Fullerton. Hughie loved to let his literary juices flow with the immediacy of the moment. He once described a New York Giant home run as follows: “the ball arrived, breathless, and took a seat in the upper right field pavilion of the Polo Grounds.” On the Monday preceeding the Red Sox–Phillies opener on Friday, Manager Pat Moran, along with Pete Alexander, and sore-armed catcher “Reindeer” Bill Killefer showed up at the Polo Grounds to watch the Red Sox drop two games to the 68-81 Yankees. Fullerton reported: “Moran, Alexander, and Killefer all kept notes while Dutch Leonard was pitching in the first game. They took notes that he threw left-handed, kept his foot on the rubber, and chewed gum…Easily the prettiest part of the afternoon reception was when Manager Pat Moran of the Phils offered his mitt to Manager Bill Carrigan of Boston. They talked about the weather, the wheat crop, the big war loan, the domestic policy of the Patagonians, but not a word about baseball.” Both managers were catchers, Carrigan still active, but only for the games when Dutch Leonard pitched.

Fullerton, years ahead of Bill James and moneyball, detailed his system of “doping” baseball games which he had developed over years of studying the game. He claimed that baseball was easier to “dope” than horse racing. He called himself the “Grandoldope.” The basis of all doping was comparison. A ballplayer perfect in all phases of the game—speed, hitting power, quick thinking, throwing, base running, and so on—would be given a score of 1000. If you don’t think the Grandoldope wasn’t thorough, consider that one of the things he took into account when comparing the Phillies and Red Sox was how the shortstops delivered the ball to the second basemen when executing double plays. In Fullerton’s view nobody was perfect, but Ty Cobb came closest—Fullerton rated Cobb at 922. Red Sox center fielder Tris Speaker was rated 903.

So how did the Phillies match up with the Red Sox? Not very well. According to Fullerton’s “dope,” the Beantowners were superior—far superior he said—to the Quakers in every department of the game. Then Hughie, trying to be fair, and hedging his bets, conceded the point that in a short series the Phillies’ might beat the odds because they had Grover Alexander to pitch and the Red Sox did not. Grover advised that he was prepared to pitch every game. When the Red Sox tuned up on Wednesday, October sixth by beating the Yankees twice, they became 10-8 favorites for the series, never mind that the Phillies beat the Dodgers twice in their warmup that day. Fullerton’s final line: Red Sox in six. Fullerton’s prediction for game one: Phillies win behind Alexander, 3-1. Hughie got that one right. Final score: Philadelphia 3, Boston 1.

On game day, after an all-night rain, the field was a mess, dry only in the few areas where canvas coverings had been applied. The sun had finally split the clouds just before noon, and it was necessary to burn the infield with oil to make the field playable for a 2 P.M. start. The Royal Rooters with their blue flags, brass band, and interminable singing of their war song, “Tessie,” tried their best to bring a Boston flavor to the pre-game festivities, but they were outnumbered and outshouted by the friendly Philadelphians. Celebrities were all over the place: Arlie Latham, Colonel Jacob Ruppert, Christy Mathewson, Ring “You Know Me Al” Lardner, Ty Cobb. The field was playable though muddy; four of the five Phillies’ hits off Boston righthander Ernie Shore were infield hits that might have been handled on a dry field. Alexander was not great, but he was good enough; he gave up a single in each of the first eight innings. Hugh Fullerton wrote with typical exaggeration that Alexander would never pitch a worse game or win a luckier victory. True, Old Pete gave up eight hits and two walks, both to Tris Speaker, but he also fanned six and had three assists. The sturdy, lefthanded hitting Speaker was far and away Boston’s best hitter. In 1915, Speaker was in the ninth year of a 22-year career that resulted in a .345 lifetime average with near 1,400 walks and only 220 strikeouts. They called him “the Grey Eagle,” partly because of his Eagle-eye at the plate. Alex nursed a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning when the Sox broke through to tie after a walk to Speaker and a two-out hit by Duffy Lewis. In the bottom of the eighth the Phillies plated two runs to seal the win, the decisive run scoring on a bases loaded bouncer to short by the most dangerous hitter in the National League, Gavvy Cravath. Dangerous because of his power, but on the record, Phillies’ first baseman and team captain Fred Luderus was a better hitter. Luderus was denied the league batting average title only because New York Giants captain Larry Doyle rapped four hits in the season finale against Boston when obviously disinterested Braves’ pitchers coughed up 24 hits and 15 runs in a nine-inning game that was completed in one hour and two minutes.

Game one also featured the only series appearance of Boston pitcher Babe Ruth. The 20-year-old Ruth, although wild like most young lefthanders, had compiled an 18-8 record for the season but would not pitch in the series because manager Carrigan had noted a decline in his performance over the last six weeks of the season. But the kid could could hit—ten doubles, 1 triple, and a team-leading four home runs for the year (the entire team hit only 14, least in the league). Carrigan called on the Babe to pinch hit for Ernie Shore in the ninth inning, trailing 3-1 with a runner on first and two out. Carrigan and Ruth both eyed that short porch in right, the Babe could reach it with one hand tied behind his back. Alexander against Ruth in a World’s Series confrontation with the game on the line. Who writes these scripts? Ruth uncoiled with all his strength at a pitch low in the strike zone but could only scrape the top of the ball which rolled harmlessly to Fred Luderus at first who scooped it and danced across the bag for the final out.

For game two the President of the United States showed up along with his fiancée and her mother. Woodrow Wilson, the former centerfielder for the Davidson college team, and batboy for Princeton came as a fan—in 1915, they were called cranks. Wilson insisted on paying his way into the ballpark. The President was treated to a tense pitching duel between Red Sox 19-game winner Rube Foster and Erskine Mayer, who won 21 games for the Phillies during the regular season. Foster was unhittable except for back-to-back doubles by Cravath and Luderus in the fourth inning. Foster personally matched the Phillies’ total, rapping three hits including the game-winner, scoring Larry Gardner with two out in the ninth inning. Red Sox 2, Phillies 1.

In game three on Monday, a lovely fall day in New England, the largest crowd ever to witness a baseball game, more than 45,000 rowdy rooters, saw the Grey Eagle take wing and spark another 2-1 Boston win, this time over the fearsome Alexander, thus plunging all of Philadelphia into the shadow of doom. It started badly for the peerless centerfielder when he neglected to bring his sunglasses and lost leadoff man Stock’s flyball in the brilliant afternoon sun. Never mind, Tris, leave it to Dutch Leonard. The Red Sox lefthander stranded Stock at third when he fanned Gavvy Cravath on a dipping “moist ball” to end the inning and the threat. One run might have been all Alex needed. They got it in the third, but Speaker stalled the Philadelphia rally with a spectacular all-the-way-on-the-fly throw from centerfield that stopped Alexander at third base after “Beauty” Bancroft’s hit that looked like a sure two-run single. Red Sox second baseman Jack Barry (one of Connie Mack’s former stars) turned in the next spectacular play when he raced into right centerfield for a back-to-the-plate grab of Paskert’s bid for a game-breaking hit. The inning ended with yet a third Red Sox fielding gem—leftfielder Duffy Lewis’ grab off the leftfield wall of Cactus Cravath’s long fly ball, a bolt everyone agreed would have been a three-run homer in Philadelphia or a two-run double off the green monster at Fenway Park. It was beginning to look like the hand of destiny favored Boston.

Alexander changed his pitching strategy from game one in Philadelphia; in the face of the yawning spaces of the Braves Field outfield—500 feet to the centerfield fence—Alex went to his fly-ball game. In the skin-tight dimensions of National League Park in Philadelphia, Old Pete had allowed only five outfield putouts, this day in Boston there were 11, seven for centerfielder Paskert, as well as seven infield pop ups.

Speaker got the Sox a 1-1 tie in the fourth when he ripped a down-and-in curveball just fair over first base and into the right field corner for a triple; he scored on Hoblitzel’s sacrifice fly. Leonard and Alexander matched zeroes until the fateful ninth when Duffy Lewis sent the hometown crowd into a frenzied celebration when he drilled a two-out single up the middle to score Harry Hooper from third with the game winner. Philadelphia was left to ponder the difference of a few inches here or there in separating winners from losers.

Tuesday, October 12, the birthday of Christopher Columbus, was a holiday in Boston and 70,000 people showed up at Braves Field celebrating the fact that Columbus had discovered America, thus making possible these big ball games. Only 50,000 could jam into the park so the disappointed 20,000, some of whom had been standing in ticket lines before the sun came up, had to be satisfied with shouted accounts of the action from fans sitting high in the bleachers inside the park. The Boston mail carriers came as a group, in uniform, with their own brass band, their own songs, and their own yells. They were unanimously elected to membership in the other organizations of rabid Boston citizens, including “the Royal Rooters” and “the Honey Fitzes.” To further honor Columbus on his birthday, the various brass bands assembled before the start of the seventh inning to play The Star Spangled Banner while spectators, players, and even umpires removed their caps in respect.

Trailing the series two games to one, both losses by that 2-1 score, manager Moran sent righthander George Chalmers to the hill for the Phillies to face Sox ace Ernie Shore, the game one loser. The result was a third straight 2-1 Phillies loss. The Phillies’ lone run came in the eighth when Cravath’s hot single to center bounced over Speaker’s head and went for a triple followed by Captain Fred Luderus’ third hit, a solid smash up the middle. In the bottom of the eighth, already leading 2-1, the Red Sox had a chance to blow the game wide open; they loaded the bases with one out, but were turned away when Gardner’s chopper to the mound was turned into a 1-2-3 doubleplay. The baseball-savvy Boston partisans, recognizing a good play when they saw it, applauded the Philadelphia effort.

So there it was, the Red Sox led the series three games to one and the teams hopped the train to Philadelphia for what might be a series-ending fifth game. And that’s how it turned out, thanks to the new-found muscle of Boston rightfielder Harry Bartholomew Hooper. Phillies’ manager Moran was tempted to call for a saliva test when Hooper matched his season total of two home runs. The game, and series, winner came in the ninth inning to break a 4-4 tie. Hooper, the Red Sox leadoff man, connected off Eppa Rixey for a line drive into the right centerfield gap that evaded the desperate dive of centerfielder Dode Paskert and took one hop into the bleachers—a home run by 1915 baseball rules. Hooper had tied the game at two in the third inning with a bounce home run over Paskert’s head in center field. The hit signaled the end of the day for Erskine Mayer, the surprise starter over Alexander. Eppa (they called him Jeptha) Rixey, a long (6’5”) lefty took the hill for the Phillies and protected a 4-2 lead into the eighth. The lead was fashioned in the bottom of the fourth when Fred Luderus slugged the only series home run to leave the park on the fly; the captain zeroed in on a George Foster speed ball and drove it clean out of the park onto Broad Street. Who could have guessed that Rixey, pitching smoothly and effectively into the eighth inning, would have yielded a game-tying two-run homer to Duffy Lewis? And followed that with the clincher to Hooper? Friday the 13th came on Wednesday in and for Philadelphia.
Nobody was happy with the result, certainly not the Boston crowd who were hoping for a final triumph in Beantown on Thursday. Look at all the money lost because of that—another sellout at Braves Field—gone. Boston management was required to return $70,000 for seats paid in advance. A post-season celebration in Boston—gone. A planned banquet was cancelled because so many of the Red Sox left Philadelphia for home.

Hugh Fullerton was quick to say, “It doped—I told you so.” But for Jack Barry’s miraculous over-the-head catch in game three, Fullerton claimed the series would have ended 4-2 Boston, just as he had doped it. Could Hughie have predicted that the final game might have ended differently if National League Park in Philadelphia had five-foot outfield walls that might have turned the Sox three game five home runs into doubles, instead of the four-foot outfield walls that were breached by bouncing baseballs ? Maybe not, but don’t bet that he didn’t factor field dimensions into his dope.

The Red Sox took $3,779.99 each as the winner’s share; the Phillies claimed $2,519.99 each. Pat Moran offered no excuses, conceding that the Boston Red Sox were the best ball club in the country. Bill Carrigan was generous with praise for the stiff battle put up by the Phillies and somewhat sheepish in admitting that his team was favored by a bit of luck.

By max blue
Al Demaree, Bert Adams, Bert Niehoff, Dave Bancroft, Gavvy Cravath, Hans Lobert, Milt Stock, Pat Moran, Pete Alexander, Philadelphia Phillies, Red Dooin


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