Gavvy Makes Them Better, But Still Last
There were not many dramatic moments for the 1920 Phillies, maybe one; it came on April 20th in the 8th inning of the 5th game of the season, at the Polo Grounds in New York. Phillies’ grizzled Manager, Gavvy Cravath, grabbed a bat and strode to the plate as a pinch hitter for his pitcher, Eppa Rixey, who had shut down the Giants on one hit, but was locked in a 0-0 game with the Giants’ tough righthander, Rube Benton. Benton and his manager, John McGraw would have liked to walk Cravath intentionally with two men on base, but they could not do that because the National League Rules Committee had voted before the season began to ban intentional walks for the 1920 season. One can only imagine what Manager Cravath was thinking as he stepped in to face Benton. At this early stage of the season, with hopes still high, he wanted to show his team how to win. And that’s what he did – a three-run pinch hit homerun and a 3-0 lead. George Smith put the Giants down in the 8th and 9th and the Phillies, at 3-2 were contending. It was a proud moment for Cactus Cravath as he stepped on home plate and headed for a tumultuous greeting in the Phillies’ dugout. It turned out to be the 119th ,and final homerun of Cravath’s career that was marked by six homerun championships.
The Phillies kept it going for another week, pushing their record to 9-5 before a nine grhls, and after two wins, a seven grls left them at 11-21 and headed for a season in the basement where they finished 62-91, only 30 ½ games behind the winning Brooklyn Robins, a 17-game improvement over the 1919 finish.
Eppa Rixey finished at 11-22, and young Lee Meadows (25) managed a winning record at 16-14. In what was becoming an annual occurrence, the Phillies were first in homeruns (64), and last in pitching (3.63 ERA). In the American League, the New York Yankees’ Babe Ruth signalled the end of baseball’s Dead Ball era by slugging 54 homeruns, more than any other major league team, except the Phillies. Some wondered if the increased production might be related to another Rules Committee change: it was no longer legal for a pitcher to add any foreign substance to the ball – no more spit ball, except for a designated few who would be allowed to continue throwing the pitch until the end of their careers.
On June 7, the Phillies traded Beauty Bancroft to the New York Giants for veteran shortstop, Art Fletcher, who must have been in John McGraw’s doghouse, and probably wondered what he had done to deserve being dealt to the cellar-dwellers. Whatever he felt, it did not affect his play; in 102 games he hit .296, and then retired. And to show he had nothing against Philadelphia, he returned three years later as manager.
On August 16th, in New York, Cleveland’s veteran shortstop Ray Chapman suffered a fractured skull when beaned by Yankee righthander, Carl Mays; the next day he died, the only such occurrence in Major League history.
In his only full year with the Phillies, 29 year-old Casey Stengel, in 129 games, played right field, batted third, and hit .292 with nine homeruns and a surprisingly low 50 RBIs. Following a 7 ghls, the Phillies won 8 of 10 to end the season on a high note.
In the World’s Series the mourning Cleveland team beat the Brooklyn Robins behind strong pitching from Stan Coveleski, Jim Bagby, and Duster Mails. The series is notable for three firsts, all in game five: (1) the first grand slam homerun – by Elmer Smith (12 on the year), off Burleigh Grimes in the 1st inning; (2) the first homerun by a pitcher – Bagby, a three-run shot off Burleigh Grimes in the 4th inning; (3) an unassisted triple play by Cleveland second baseman Bill Wambsganns – catches line drive, tags 2nd base for force, tags runner coming from first.