Shoot Out In Chi-Town
Philadelphians were depressed. The World War, the flu epidemic, corruption in President Harding’s White House . . . the baseball teams . . . ten last place finishes in seven years. It was hard to get up in the morning. Since the 1915 Phillies championship season the team had undergone a slow slide from good (second place in 1916 and 1917) to mediocre (sixth in 1918) to just plain awful (last in 1919, 1920, and 1921). A big reason for the decline was that after the 1917 season Phillies’ management had made one of those head-scratching deals that drive fans crazy and leave them ready to strangle the gnarly nincompoops who put money above fan loyalty: Grover Cleveland Alexander, coming off his third consecutive 30 or more wins season, along with his favorite catcher, Reindeer Bill Killefer, to the Chicago Cubs for a mop-up right handed pitcher whimsically named Iron Mike Prendergast (three wins for the 1917 Cubs). The Cubs threw in a third-string catcher named Pickles Dilhoefer; oh, and $50,000. And if that wasn’t bad enough, after the war-shortened (128 games) 1918 season, the Phillies lost manager Pat Moran to Cincinnati where in 1919 Patsy guided the Reds to a World’s Series win over a Chicago White Sox team burdened with the sad fact that their socks, not to say their ethics, were, in fact, black.
The Phillies scratched for a manager to replace Moran . . . who would want the job? Long Jack Coombs tried it, but handed off to a reluctant Gavvy Cravath when he could only coax 18 wins out of his bewildered ballboys in 62 games. Gavvy had enough after a 91-loss 1920 season, and 1921 began improbably with long-time Detroit Tiger pitching star Wild Bill Donovan at the helm. Donovan’s wildness was no match for the Phillies’ follies, and halfway through the season, with 62 losses already recorded (103 was the final tally), Wild Bill walked out in disgust. He was replaced by an equally improbable choice, another old-time pitcher, on the record even wilder than Donovan, and with 142 fewer major league wins (44-88), Irvin Key Wilhelm, better known as Kaiser Wilhelm, no relation to the defeated German Emperor.
And then there were the Athletics, or as the Philadelphia sportswriters liked to call them – the Mackmen, or sometimes just the Macks. Seven consecutive last place finishes since Connie Mack sold out the city by dismantling his championship team after the 1914 season. What was he going to do with all that money? The guy should be tarred and feathered. Philadelphians were depressed.
The 1922 season promised more of the same and lived up to the promise. Following the August 24th game in Pittsburgh, leaving the Phillies at 40 won 71 lost, the Philadelphia Inquirer headlined the game: PHILLIES CONTINUE GRIND TO CELLAR, and followed with this account: A few fans who had passes, and a cloudy sky, looked on today while the Phillies were getting their final slaughter of the season at Forbes Field. The score was as near to usual as possible – 10-4. There were no bright spots worth noting though slugging centerfielder Cy Williams furnished a small glimmer with a double, triple, and a homerun that smashed the face of a clock outside the right field wall winning him 100 dollars from the Pittsburgh Gazette. On the year, for whatever it was worth, Big Cy hit .308 with 26 homeruns and 92 runs batted in. After the game the boys boarded a train, searched out the bar car, and headed for Chicago and a date with destiny.
The Cubs, now managed by Reindeer Bill, and sparked by Old Pete, were cruising in third place, a mere six games behind McGraw’s front-running Giants, and only a game and a half behind manager Branch Rickey’s St. Louis Cardinals where 26 year-old second baseman Rogers Hornsby was making a joke out of National League pitching. For the season Hornsby led the league in batting (.401), runs scored (141), hits (250), homeruns (42), and runs batted in (152). The Phillies, in 7th place, 16 games behind the Cubs, were oddly overconfident approaching the Windy City; all evidence to the contrary, they thought they were the better team. Hadn’t they swept a three-game series back in May, including a Lee Meadows 4-0 whitewash over the Great Alexander? They could beat these guys.
Maybe not. On a hot, humid, late-August day at Wrigley Field on Chicago’s north side, with thunderstorms crashing in the area and winds gusting to 50 miles per hour, the Cubs assaulted hapless Phillies’ righthander Jimmy Ring in a 10-run second inning, and sent him screaming to the showers in a 14-run fourth inning on the way to scoring a record-breaking 26 runs. The gritty Phillies, down by 19 runs after four innings, fought back with an eight-run eighth and a six-run ninth, before the Cubs’ fifth flinger, the biggest bear in the pen, 6’5”, 250 pound “Tiny” Osborne, after putting the tieing runs on base, was able to slip a third strike past Phillies’ third baseman Russ Wrightstone to end the three hour marathon. Cubs – 26, Phillies – 23.
Some 7,000 spectators witnessed what the Chicago Daily Tribune called a comic opera arranged to the tune of base hits; there were 51; the Phillies won that contest 26-25, but the Cubs prevailed in extra base hits with three homeruns and eight doubles to the Phillies two triples and four doubles. Thus, 35 singles were sprayed around the friendly confines.that stormy day. The Cubs received ten bases on balls, five from Ring who also gave up 13 hits in his 3 1/3 innings, and five from 20-year-old Lefty Weinert who somehow held the Cubs to only one run in the final four innings. The Phillies received 11 bases on balls from five beleaguered Chicago ball tossers; there were no pitchers on this record-shattering day. The Cubs made five errors, the Phillies, four. The Phillies left 16 men on base, the Cubs, 9.
None of the participants found it funny though the Tribune headlined it: COMEDY OF RUNS, HITS AND ERRORS TO CUBS 26-23.
On the following day, Lee Meadows of the Phillies, and the Cubs’ Vic Aldridge pitched shutout ball into the tenth before the Phillies broke through for a 3-0 win. It was baseball; the Phillies could beat these guys.
The 1922 Phillies managed to crawl out of the basement, four games ahead of the
Boston Braves, and avoided another 100-loss season (57-96). And this time they were only 35 ½ games behind the pennant-winning Giants. The Phillies’ outfield was actually pretty good: Cy Williams in centerfield was terrific - .308, 26, 92; Kurt Walker in right - .337, 12, 89; and in left … drum roll please … the Phillies first Cliff Lee, a righthander all the way, so probably not a pre-incarnation of the star 21st century Phillies lefty, still … whatever – the 1922 Cliff Lee hit .322 with 17 homeruns, and 77 RBIs. Third baseman Russ Wrightstone, a lefthanded hitter, batted .305, and catcher Butch Henline, .316.
The all-New York World’s Series was a Giants’ sweep, 4-0 with a tie. Heinie Groh and Frankie Frisch hit over .400 in a winning effort. For the Yankees, first baseman Wally Pipp had six hits, but rightfielder Babe Ruth only two in 17 at bats.
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- Bill Donovan, Butch Henline, Cliff Lee, Cy Williams, Forbes Field, Gavvy Cravath, Jack Coombs, Jimmy Ring, Kaiser Wilhelm, Lee Meadows, Lefty Weinert, Mike Prendergast, Pat Moran, Philadelphia Phillies, Pickles Dillhoefer, Reindeer Bill, Russ Wrightstone, Wrigley Field