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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Baseball Past

As the 2002 baseball season wound down, I was still relatively new to the internet. I had yet to discover blogs, and many of the baseball blogs I now frequent had yet to exist. Knowing that I would soon be in baseball withdrawal, I went looking for fixes. One of the first and best sites I found was the Netshrine Discussion Forum (a celebration of baseball). Netshrine was and is populated by true fans with a sprinkling of fine thinkers about the game. (A couple of regular posters at that time were Lee Sinins, author of the Around The Majors reports and creater of the Lee Sinins Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, a powerful research tool, and Will Carroll, who had not long before created the injury/medical blog Under The Knife; Will now writes the Team Health Reports for Baseball Prospectus, as well as The Juice blog.)

As the fall of 2002 deepened, Steve Lombardi, the Netshrine creator and curator, asked for volunteers from among the forum membership to write a series of articles of past seasons. Each participant was given a particular season to write about and a deadline to write to. I drew the 1924 New York Giants. Researching and writing my assignment and reading the work of others was one of richer moments of my baseball obsession. The articles in that series, along with others, can be found here. I'm reposting mine below.

THERE WERE GIANTS (in New York in those Days)

There were Giants in New York in those days – John McGraw’s Giants – and they entered the 1924 season as favorites to win the National league pennant. After all, they had captured three consecutive pennants on their way to winning two of the past three World Series.

But the favorites opened the season with a 3-2 loss to the Brooklyn Robins, and would not nail down their fourth straight pennant (and McGraw’s tenth and last as Giants manger) until September 27th with a tainted [more below] 5-1 win over Philadelphia. They ended the season with a slim 1½ game margin over the Brooklyn team before going on to face Walter Johnson and the Washington Senators in a Series that went the full seven games.

As in 1922 and 1923, the ’24 edition of the Giants would not have a 20 game winner on the pitching staff, although Virgil Barnes and Jack Bentley won 16 games apiece while Art Nehf and Hugh McQuillan each contributed 14 wins as they led the staff to a third place finish in the pitching standings with a 4.16 ERA and 641 runs allowed in 1378 innings.

Offensively though, the Giants were the class of the league. Six of their regulars batted over .300, and they finished first in batting average (.300), home runs (95), on base percentage (.358), runs (857) and slugging (.432). The result of their hitting dominance was that they scored over half a run more per game than any other team in the league; a total of 857 runs.

There were other stories, of course, in the National League that year. It was the first season for which the NL presented an MVP award. Rogers Hornsby posted the highest batting average of the 20th century by hitting .424 but lost out in the MVP voting to Dazzy Vance of the Brooklyn Robins who won 28 games and struck out 262 batters while compiling a stingy 2.16 ERA.

Death, as always – in baseball as in life –, lurked in the background. Before the season began Boston Braves SS Tony Boeckel became the first major leaguer to die as a result of injuries received in a car accident. Pat Moran, the Red manager died of a terminal kidney ailment, Bright’s Disease during spring training (Ross Youngs, a favorite of McGraw’s and a large part of the Giants offence in 1924, would be diagnosed with Bright’s in 1926 and die of the disease in 1927).

On July 16th, Giants 1B George Kelly became the first player to hit home runs in six straight games. It was his seventh long ball of the season. He would finish with 21.

On July 17th, Tuberculosis Day at Sportman’s Park, Jesse Haines refused to cough up a hit as he threw the first ever NL no-hitter in St. Louis in a 5-0 win over the Braves on his way to an 8-19 record for the season.

In a July 30th game between the Phillies and the Cards, Bill Sherdel came out of the St. Louis bullpen in the eighth inning with men on first and second and no outs. He wound up and delivered to Johnny Mokan who tried to bunt. The ball stayed in the air long enough to be caught by Jim Bottomley charging in from first. Bottomley’s peg to SS Jimmy Cooney doubled off the runner at second. And Cooney wasted no time in throwing a strike to Rogers Hornsby who had moved over to cover first base. One pitch for Sherdell, one triple play for the Cards.

Jim Bottomley soon became the first player to drive in 12 runs in a game. On September 16th Bottomley hit three singles, a double and two home runs (including a grand slam) against Brooklyn whose manager, Wilbert Robinson, had held the old record of 11 set in 1892 when he was a Baltimore Oriole and a teammate of John McGraw’s.

The darkest day of the 1924 season for the Giants, and for baseball, coincided with the Giants clinching the pennant. After New York’s 5-1 win over Philadelphia that day, Phillies SS Heinie Sand accused Giants OF Jimmy O’Connell of offering him $500 to throw the game.

Under questioning by Commissioner Landis, O’Connell, a 23 year old playing in his sophomore year, admitted to making the offer but said he made it on behalf of coach Cozy Dolan and various players on the New York roster. On October 1st, Landis announced that both O’Connell and Dolan were expelled from professional baseball.

With the bribery controversy barely behind them, the rest of the Giants (including 18 year old 3B Fred Lindstrom) headed to Washington to meet the Senators on October 4th for the first game of the World Series. The game went 12 innings and the Giants eked out a 4-3 win as they beat Walter Johnson in his first-ever World Series appearance despite striking out 12 times against the 37-year-old pitching legend. Art Nehf was the winning pitcher.

Game two was decided in the bottom of the ninth on a double by Washington SS Roger Peckinpaugh that scored 1B Joe Judge.

The teams split games three and four, and in game five on October 8th the Giants once again thwarted Johnson in his attempt to win a World series game as they touched him for 13 hits and six runs at the Polo Grounds.

In game six, back in Washington, the Senators’ Tom Zachary gave up a run on two first inning hits but held the New York squad to five hits the rest of the way as he squeaked out a 2-1 win. Art Nehf took the loss as the 1924 World Series was sent to a seventh game.

To start game seven on October 10th , Senators player-manager Bucky Harris sent 23 year old RHP Curly Ogden and his 9-8 record to the mound. Briefly.

After Ogden struck out Fred Lindstrom and walked Frankie Frisch, Harris pulled him in favor of LHP George Mogridge (16-11) – apparently to keep Bill Terry and his left-handed bat on the Giants bench where Harris seemed to feel they belonged. Harris gave his team a 1-0 lead with a drive into the temporary seats in left field. That lead held until the sixth when a base hit by New York and two errors by the Senators combined to give the Giants a 3-1 lead which looked like it might hold up and turn into another World Championship for the Giants.

But in the eighth Washington pinch-hitter Nemo Liebold banged out a double which C Muddy Ruel quickly followed with a single. The next batter drew a walk to load the bases. That brought up Harris who hit a seemingly harmless grounder to Lindstrom which suddenly struck a pebble and sailed into left to bring home the tying run.

To open the ninth inning Harris brought back Johnson after one day of rest. Johnson held the Giants scoreless for four innings.

In the bottom of the twelfth, the game was looking as if it might never end. But with two outs, New York C Hank Gowdy stepped on his mask near home plate as he tried to field a short pop fly by Muddy Ruel. Ruel stepped back into the batter’s box and smashed a double. Johnson then reached on a error by SS Travis Jackson. Earl McNeely came to the plate and pulled a grounder to third base. And, just as in the eighth inning, the ball took a sudden hop over young Fred Lindstrom’s head into left field. Ruel scored from second to give the Senators and Walter Johnson a hard-fought victory and their first World Series title.

Yes, there were Giants in New York in those days but they never won another pennant until 1933.

Sources: Baseball Reference.com, BaseballLibrary.com, The 20th Century Baseball Chronicle.

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