Saturday, September 27, 2014

Almost A Dynasty: 1920's Pittsburgh Pirates

What actually makes a sports dynasty?  Obviously a team needs to be successful for a continuous amount of time.  Every sport has that one iconic dynasty that fits the Dynasty category.  The NBA had the Boston Celtics who won nine out of ten championships.  The Montreal Canadiens won 7 of nine Stanley Cups (including six straight).  The NFL had several dynasties including the 49'ers, the Steelers, the Cowboys and, most recently, the Patriots.  Baseball itself has had the Yankees dynasties in several incarnations including the 1930's, 1950's and 2000's.

So what actually makes a team a dynasty?  There can of course be several definitions since there are varying levels of success.  A team can dominate their division for a decade but be bounced out in the first round of the playoffs year after year.  We could of course consider that to be a divisional dynasty but you wouldn't call it an overall baseball dynasty.  So let us set the parameters for this series of articles.  A dynasty, for our purposes here, is a team that wins multiple World Series championships (above two as back to back is nice but not a dynasty) within a 5-10 year period.  That being defined, this series will explore those teams that may have been a divisional or league dynasty but for whatever reason could not get over the hump to that World Series dynasty.

This series will show an array of near dynasties.  Some are teams that made the World Series year after year but fell short.  Others will be teams that competed right down to the end of the regular season year after year just to be beaten out.  It will be a series of near misses and what could have beens.

Don't miss the other almost dynasty articles: The Detroit Tigers of the 1900's and The Chicago White Sox of the 1910's.  Now let's get started with this weeks "almost dynasty": The Pittsburgh Pirates of the 1920's.

The original Pirates
The Pirates organization in the National League are nearly as old as baseball itself.  The team was formed in 1882 and over the span of their existence are truly one of the more successful organizations.  They don't have anywhere near the number of World Series titles of the Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox or Tigers but they have been a well run, competitive organization for the better part of their history.

Of course every organization (even the Yankees) have their ups and downs.  The Pirates, just before the turn of the century, were on the down trend.  Things changed dramatically.  The team was purchased by a man named Barney Dreyfus.  Dreyfus also owned the National League's Louisville franchise.  Louisville had some great players.  Honus Wagner.  Tommy Leach.  Fred Clarke.  Ginger Beaumont.  Sam Leever.  Ed Doheny.  Louisville was unbeatable.  Dreyfus now wanted the Pirates to be unbeatable so he made a simple business decision.  Instead of a long drawn out scouting and rebuilding process he just simply proposed a trade. The Louisville team would trade their best players to the Pirates.  As the owner of both he quickly approved his own proposal.

When the league discarded four teams at the end of the 1899 season Louisville was one of them.  The Pirates went on to become the dominant team in the league.  The Pirates finished second in 1900 then won the 1901, 1902 and 1903 NL Pennants before losing the first ever World Series in 1903.  Over the next ten years they would finish in the top three all but one year (1904 they finished fourth) and would even win the 1909 World Series over Ty Cobb and the Tigers' "almost dynasty".  Following the 1909 World Series the team declined quickly. Wagner, Clarke and Leach grew old.  Leach was sold off as was Pitcher Vic Willis.  First Baseman Bill Abstein had a horrendous World Series and was sold to the Browns.  Bobby Byrne had broken his ankle in a Game 7 collision at third and did not perform as well afterwards.  Dots Miller and Chief Wilson were eventually traded off.  Catcher George Gibson moved on to the Giants.  The replacement players were good but not great and the franchise declined.  The team bottomed out in 1917 finishing in last place.  1917 was the start of the Giants' run of success as New York won the NL in 1917, 1921, 1922 1923 and 1924 (they should have won the pennant in 1919 as well but there were questions about the honesty of the third baseman and first baseman).

Although the Pirates bottomed out in 1917 the recovery was already in process. They climbed to 4th in 1918,1919 and 1920.  In 1921 they were ready to compete.

Building the new Bucs
Few names would span the end of the Pirates' first dynasty through the beginning of the new one: Babe Adams was the most prominent.  As a rookie in 1909 Adams had won three of the Pirates four World Series victories, bringing the city their first World Series title.  He was a surprise starter in Game 1 ( he had been 12-3, 1.11 ERA that regular season but had only started in 12 games).  Since that rookie year Adams had established himself as the ace of the staff (he won between 15 and 20 games 5 times in his career and rarely had an ERA above 2.50).

Max Carey had also appeared on the 1909 Pirates, although he had little to do with the team.  He appeared in only 2 games that year and was not part of the post season roster.  Carey did develop into one of the better players in the league and often led the league in steals.

In September of 1920 the Pirates made one of their greatest contract purchases ever when they spent $100,000 for Pie Traynor.  Traynor would go on to a Hall of Fame career and spend 17 years in a Pirates uniform.

At the end of the 1920 season, a year that saw them quite improved, the Pirates sent three players (including future Hall of Famer Billy Southworth) to the Boston Braves and in return they received Rabbitt Maranville.  Maranville was an established star who had helped the 1914 Miracle Braves win a championship, however, his numbers had declined in recent years and his clubhouse presence in Boston had become a bit of a question.  The Pirates were happy to have him because, although he had some team mate problems in Boston, Maranville was a fiery player who could possibly fit well with Traynor and Carey.

Also coming to the Pirates during this time were some strong young players less well known that Traynor.  Clyde Barnhart played only 21 games in 1920 but would be full time in 1921.  Charlie Grimm would go on to fame with the Cubs but he would get his first real big league experience with the Pirates starting for the team in 1921 after being acquired from the Cardinals in 1919.  Carson Bigbee played the outfield starting in 1916 and remained through the mid 1920's.  Pitcher Wilbur Cooper, along with Babe Adams, was one of the best the league saw.

It had been more than a decade since the fans in Pittsburgh had something to cheer about.  The Steelers and Penguins did not exist.  The NBA (or it's ancestor league the BAA) was another 25 years away and even then the Pittsburgh Ironmen would finish in dead last, five games worse than the next best team.  For Pittsburgh sports fans it was the Pirates or nothing.

With a collection of young talent like Traynor and Barnhart along with Maranville and Carey it was not unthinkable that the Pirates were improving to the point of impacting the pennant race.  With the Giants led by McGraw and a defending NL Champ Brooklyn still strong, contention still seemed a long shot for 1921.  The Pirates got off to a hot start.  On April 30, the team sat 1 1/2 ahead of the Robins and 2 1/2 ahead of the Giants.  The team batting was well ahead of anyone's expectations.  Maranville was hitting .397, Carey was at .333.  The surprises were Grimm (.308) and second baseman Cotton Tierney (.453).  An 18-7 May put the team at 29-10.  They had built a lead as high as 4 games but it stood at 3 as the calendar moved to June.  They had distanced themselves from the Robins (9 1/2 back) but the Giants were hanging strong.  A brief losing streak saw them fall a half game out of first for a day on June 3 but they quickly recovered and by July 22 they were 4 1/2 ahead of the Giants.  The lead was at 3 as the Giants came to town for a four game series.  This was the crucial series of the year.  A sweep would put the Pirates seven games up to start August.  The Pirates won game 1 increasing the lead to four.  The next day the Pirates lost a heartbreaker.  They led 4-0 after 6 and 5-1 after 7.  Then the Giants erupted for five in the 8th and 2 in the 9th.  The Giants won in the 10th inning.  The next night the Giants won again with a 4-1 masterful pitching performance by Jesse Barnes.  The lead was down to one with one game left against the Giants.  The Pirates again led, this time 4-2, in the 9th before the Giants stunned them with 4 runs in the 9th.  A 1-0 loss the following night to the Braves made it 5 losses in 6 games and the top of the NL was tied.  The Giants series was a big missed opportunity for the young team.  They quickly recovered and rebuilt their lead.  It was up to 7 1/2 by August 22nd.  They lost 13 of the next 15 games and the lead shrunk again.  This team didn't quite know how to hold a lead.  They went 14-23 from the time they reached the 7 1/2 game lead until the end of the year.  The Giants went 24-9 in the same span and the Giants won the league by 4 games.

Many expected the Pirates to challenge again in 1922.  The Pirates expected it themselves and they made few moves in the offseason.  The season did not go as planned.  65 games into the season they were 10  games out of first and stuck in 5th place.  Manager George Gibson was fired and was replaced with Bill McKechnie.  The team went 53-36 under McKechnie, spending most of September in second but never getting closer than three and a half.  Losing 7 of their last 10 dropped them to third.

The 1923 Pirates started the year 6-7.  It is not a terrible record but the Giants started 10-4.  The Pirates were in 6th place at the end of the first month.  They would bounce back and forth between second and third the rest of the year, even cutting the lead to 2 1/2 at one point but  the Giants were much too strong and ran away with the league.  Some felt that this run of Giant success was the greatest collection of talent the game had ever seen.  Few felt the team could be beaten but Ruth and the Yankees proved it was possible. The Yankees, playing their first year in their own stadium, took out the two time World Champions leaving a bad taste in John McGraw's mouth but the taste of blood in that of the Pirates.

Feeling very close to overtaking the Giants, Pittsburgh decided to give a few young players a shot. Glenn Wright took over at Shortstop while Kiki Cuyler patroled the outfield full time.  This now gave the Pirates four future Hall of Fame players (Maranville, Traynor, Carey and Cuyler) as well as two players considered among the best in their day (Wright and Grimm).  After the Giants' 1923 World Series loss, the Pirates felt they could take on the once unbeatable Giants.  They played mediocre ball (19-20) through the first two months.  June started poorly and it appeared to be another lost season.  The Pirates played well the rest of the season and ended the year with 90 wins.  9 games out of first on August 8 the team won 9 straight cutting the deficit to just three games.  They would finish the season in third place, 3 games out of first.

It was yet another disappointing season.  Pirates fans were growing tired of the disappointment.  Every year they felt they had a chance and every year they stumbled out of the gate.  It seemed as though the end of each year was the same refrain.  "If only they had started stronger."  Angels and Royals fans have felt the same way the last few years.  The Pirates made a big move in the off season, one that was immediately questioned.  They sent Maranville, Grimm and Wilbur Cooper, the team's ace, to the Chicago Cubs.  In return they received George Grantham, Al Niehaus and the man who would replace Cooper, Vic Aldridge.  The trade was very unpopular with fans and Maranville did not make it easy on the team.  In numerous speaking engagements in the Pittsburgh area he denied the rumors that the was a nuisance in the clubhouse or had played any part in the diruptions that had secretly become the downfall of the team.  They also signed a young shortstop named Joe Cronin who would see little playing time.

Another Near Disappointment
Those who questioned the trade of Maranville, Grimm and Aldridge immediately started yelling "I told you so..." when the team again stumbled out of the gate.  At 6-8 the team was in last place.  The Pirates turned to an old leader to help ignite the team.  Fred Clarke, the man who had led the team in the early 1900's, was brought in as a consultant.  The team started to turn around and went 16-9 in May and signed veteran First Baseman Stuffy McInnis of the A's $100,000 infield.  By the end of May they had climbed to third, 5 1/2 games behind the Giants.  They continued winning.  By the end of June they were tied for first.  The month of July was a seesaw battle going back and forth.  Pirates fans feared the worst.  Although they were ahead Pirates fans had seen this trick before and they were skeptical.  Pittsburgh continued to win.  As August turned to September their lead was at 8.  It still could all fall apart.  After all, this was the fifth straight season they were in contention.  Any, or all, of those seasons could have resulted in a World Series appearance. Instead it ended before the World Series began.  On September 10 they won to extend their lead back to 8 games.  They lost the next 4 in a row and Pirates fans started to sweat  How long would it take for the collapse to happen?  It didn't.  They won their next 9 straight and advanced to their first World Series since the days of Wagner, Clarke and Leach.

Their opponents were the defending champion Washington Senators.  While a year before they were viewed as underdogs against McGraw's Giants, this year the Senators were expected to roll over the young Bucs.  The great Walter Johnson started Game 1.  The year before his Game 1 World Series start was a disappointment.  This time he dominated.  He allowed only 5 hits. Pie Traynor had two of them, including a solo Home Run in the 5th.  The Senators won it 4-1 taking a one game lead.

Game 2 was a tense battle.  Joe Judge hit a Home Run in the second putting the Senators up 1-0.  Glenn Wright tied it up in the 4th with a solo shot of his own.  The middle innings were crucial.  Every runner stranded could have meant either a tied series or a two game lead for the Senators.  The 8th inning started with an easy ground ball to Shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh. The AL MVP, playing with a severly injured leg, couldn't field it and there was a runner on first.  Two batters later Kiki Cuyler put the Pirates ahead with a long Home Run.  It was only a two run lead and the Senators would not go quietly.  The 9th opened with a walk, a single and another walk loading the bases with no one out.  Vic Aldridge got Bobby Veach to fly out scoring a run and cutting the lead to one.  Still with two runners on base and no one out Pirates fans were on the edge of their seats.  A strikeout gave the Pirates fans some relief.  The next batter connected on a ground ball.  Second baseman Eddie Moore needed to field it or the Senators would tie up the game.  Moore fielded and threw to McInnis.  The Pirates had held on to tie the series.

Games 3 and 4 did not go the Pirates way.  Game 3 saw the Pirates blow a 3-1 lead.  Emil Yde gave up a three run Home Run to Goose Goslin, immediately followed by a solo Home Run to Joe Judge and that would be all the scoring in Game 4.  The Senators had a 3 games to 1 series lead and needed just one more win to give Washington a second World Series title.  With Walter Johnson, the greatest Pitcher in the history of the game, and Stan Coveleski, former hero of the Cleveland Indians 1920 World Series victory, it seemed impossible that the Senators might not win.
A lead off single and a double gave the Senators a one run lead but a tired Coveleski could not hold the lead.  The Pirates scored twice in the third to take the lead.  Joe Judge hit another Home Run (his 3rd of the Series) tying it at 2.  It was all Pirates from there.  They extended their season with a 6-3 win in Game 5.

Game 6 was just as tense.  The Senators scored one in the first and one in the second to give them a 2-0 lead.  The Pirates appeared to be playing out the string. The Pirates fought back in the third to tie the game with 2 runs.  The next run was crucial.  A Senators run could mean the end of the season.  A Pirates run could mean the extreme pressure of a Game 7..  Lead off hitter Eddie Moore started the 5th inning for the Pirates with a Solo Home Run giving Pittsburgh a one run lead.  The Senators threatened in both the 8th and 9th but couldn't score.  The series was tied at three forcing a final deciding game.

Walter Johnson started for the Senators in Game 7.  It looked like it would be a miserable, disappointing day for Pirates fans.  The conditions were dreart as rains soaked the field.  The conditions were so bad that Johnson's biographer named the chapter discussing the game "The Great Sea Disaster".  The Senators jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first.  Vic Aldridge had problems from the beginning.  A single, fly ball  out, wild pitch, walk, another wild pitch, another walk, a third walk, and a single.  Aldridge's day was over but the inning wasn't.  A Catcher's interference and an error later and it seemed like it would be a long day.  The Pirates cut the lead to one with a 3 run third but Joe Harris hit a two run double in the top of the fourth to push the score to 6-3. The weather continued to deteriorate.  Pittsburgh got one more run in the 5th and when the game became official Commissioner Landis declared the Senators the World Champions.  But not so fast.  The Senators refused to accept the decision.  They did not want to accept what they feared would be a tainted title so the game continued.   The Pirates tied it in the 7th but the Senators kept them from going ahead when Pie Traynor tried to stretch a triple into an inside the park Home Run but was thrown out at home. The Senators bounced right back out in front  the next inning when Peckinpaugh, playing on a badly injured leg, hit a solo Home Run.  The rain was so bad at this point that the grounds crew had to continuously pour sawdust onto the Pitcher's mound, attempting to cover the puddles.  Walter Johnson was filling his hat with saw dust hoping to keep the rain out of his eyes.  Johnson got two quick outs in the bottom of the 8th making it look like the Senators would be set to win it in the 9th.  Earl Smith doubled.  Carson Bigbee, pinch hitting, doubled scoring Smith.  Eddie Moore walked and Max Carey hit a ground ball to Peckinpaugh.  It looked like the inning was over. Instead Peckinpaugh's damaged leg slipped and the throw went wild.  The bases were loaded with two outs.  Kiki Cuyler untied it with a 2 run Ground Rule Double giving the Pirates a 9-7 lead and after a quick 1-2-3 9th innning, the World Championship.

The Pirates near dynasty, after five years of collapses and stumbles now had a World Championship.  The follow up would fit the pattern of the first few years of the almost dynasty, only in a much more scandalously dramatic fashion.

The ABC Affair
The 1926 defending Champion Pirates were in a tight battle with a surprise contender, the St.Louis Cardinals.  The Cardinals had never really contended for an NL title before.  Pittsburgh again stumbled out of the gate but by July 24 had moved into first place.  Fred Clarke was still serving as a bench coach for the team and making his voice heard, even if the players and manager McKechnie were trying hard to turn it into background noise.  Although his help was credited with leading to the 1925 World Series win, the players and McKechnie had heard enough.  Max Carey was slumping late in the season and McKechnie was ready to bench him.  Clarke, loudly and in the presence of the entire team,  suggested that the bat boy might improve the team over Carey's current performance.  It was the last straw and the players said enough is enough.  Babe Adams (A), Carson Bigbee (B) and Max Carey (C) demanded that Clarke leave the team and not be involved anymore.  Owner Barney Dreyfus, partial to Clarke because of his long previous service, did not take well to demands.  On August 13th the team released A, B and C from the team.  Three of the key players in the World Series team were gone, just like that, with the team fighting for a pennant.  In fact they were in first place by 2 games.  They held first  until August 30th but a Cardinals team led by Rogers Hornsby, Jim Bottomley and an aging Grover Cleveland Alexander overtook them for their first ever NL title.  It was yet another missed opportunity for an almost dynasty.

Pick Your Poison
Before the 1926 season, the Pirates had signed two outfielders with the future in mind.  The future came quicker than expected.  In October of  1925 the Pirates signed Paul Waner away from the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League.  Paul played in 144 games in 1926 and had there been a rookie of the year award at the time he likely would have won it, even receiving votes for MVP.  A few months later they signed another oufielder, a 21 year old who would not see any playing time in 1926 but would star for the Pirates in 1927.  It was Paul's little brother Lloyd.  The two were so potent a pair that they were said to be poison to the other team.  Paul, the older, was "Big Poison" and the younger Lloyd was "Little Poison".  Opposing pitchers would need to pick their poison but one would likely beat them. If the poisons didn't the rest of the lineup would.  Carey and Bigbee were gone but Traynor, Wright and Cuyler were still there and the team added Joe Harris from the Senators.  Their competition at the top was again a surprise. This time it was the Cubs.  The Pirates fell six games back by August 16 but went 30-13 the rest of the way.  This included winning streaks of 7 and 11.  The Bucs won the  NL by a game and a half.  Just one year after the devastating embarasment of the ABC Affair the Pirates had a chance to add to their almost dynasty.

Their opponents, unfortunately for Pittsburgh, were the 1927 Yankees known as Murderer's Row.  Still known as one of the greatest teams of all time the '27 Yankees included Tony Lazzeri, Mark Koenig, Bob Meusel, Joe Dugan, Earle Combs and of course Ruth and Gehrig.  The story is often told of the Waners watching the Yankees hit ball after ball into the bleachers  in batting practice and basically giving up before the series even started but the story is absurd.  The Waners would certainly not have been discouraged and with Traynor, Wright and Cuyler leading the way the team would not be allowed to keep that attitude for long.  In fact Game 1 was anything but a run away.  The Yankees scored on a triple from Gehrig in the first but the Pirates came right back with a run in the bottom of the 1st.  The Yankees scored three in third to go up 4-1.  The Bucs chipped away with one in the bottom of the third and the teams traded runs back and forth.  Game 1 was a 6-4 victory but the Pirates could have pulled it out.

Games 2 and 3 were less competitive.  The Pirates scored first but the Yankees quickly took at 3-1 lead.  They extended that to 6-1 in the 8th and eventually won 6-2.  The Yankees would take a 2-0 lead against the Pirates in the first inning of Game 3 on a triple by Gehrig, who was thrown out trying to stretch it into an inside the park Home Run.  The Pirates did not manage to get anyone on base until the top of the 8th when Traynor singled and Clyde Barnhardt doubled him home.  This came too late because the inning before saw the Yankees score six (including a three run Home Run from Ruth).  The Yankees took a 3-0 series lead with an 8-1 win,

The Pirates, fighting hard to avoid a sweep, trailed 3-1 in the 7th inning of Game 4 thanks to another Ruth Home Run, when they rallied to tie the game.  There may not have been much hope at this point to beat the Yankees but they sure as hell were going to make them fight for it.  The tie game went into the bottom off the 9th.  Combs led off the Yankees 9th with a single.  Koenig followed with a bunt single. They both moved up on a wild pitch and Ruth was walked intentionally to load the bases.  It seemed like an impossible situation.  When Gehrig and Meusel struck out, the Pirates hoped for extra innings.  Just a few pitches later it was all over.  A wild pitch scored the winning run.  It was another year of what if's that could have led to a dynasty.

The Decline and Fall of the Almost Pirates Dynasty
The Pirates did not just give up after the 1927 season, although they would not reach the World Series again.  They played poorly in April and May of 1928, as seemed to be their pattern, but it was too much to come back from this time.  They finished 4th, 8 1/2 behind the Cardinals.  They played well in 1929, even holding first place as late as July 23.  They played 32-34 ball the rest of the way.  The Cubs, however, went 44-24 in the same span, winning the NL by 10 1/2 games.  1930 was the opposite of the almost dynasty pattern.  The team played well out of the gates, holding the top spot with a 9-3 April.  A poor finish dropped them to 5th for the year, they would finish in the same spot the next year

The team made one final push in 1932.  In late July they had a six game lead but the Cubs again got hot and the Pirates played mediocre ball.  They put up a valiant fight but in the end came up short, 4 1/2 behind the Cubs.  1933 was almost identical finishing 2nd to the Giants, 5 games back.

The players were mostly gone.  Only Traynor and the Waners remained but Traynor was now 34.  The Pirates would take a long time rebuilding.  It would become a bit of a baseball graveyard, the place dying careers and less than touted prospects ended up.  It was not until 1960 that the Pirates would again become a contender.

Mentioned in today's article was the Louisville franchise of the National League.  At the end of the 1899 season the NL expelled 4 teams, including the Louisville franchise.  What were the other three teams?

Congrtulations to Hope for Correctly Answering Last Week's Trivia Question:
The 1959 White Sox came to beknown as the "Go-Go" Sox because of their speed on the base paths.  They reached the World Series for the first time since the Black Sox scandal.  The manager of the Sox was Al Lopez.  The Sox broke a strangle hold by the Yankees at the top of the league.  In fact from 1949 through 1964 the Yankees won the American League every year except two.  One of course was the 1959 Sox led by Al Lopez.  The other was 1954 Indians, also led by Al Lopez.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Almost a Dynasty: 1910's Chicago White Sox

What actually makes a sports dynasty?  Obviously a teem needs to be successful for a continuous amount of time.  Every sport has that one iconic dynasty that fits the Dynasty category.  The NBA had the Boston Celtics who won nine out of ten championships.  The Montreal Canadiens won 7 of nine Stanley Cups (including six straight).  The NFL had several dynasties including the 49'ers, the Steelers, the Cowboys and, most recently, the Patriots.  Baseball itself has had the Yankees dynasties in several incarnations including the 1930's, 1950's and 2000's.

So what actually makes a team a dynasty?  There can of course be several definitions since there are varying levels of success.  A team can dominate their division for a decade but be bounced out in the first round of the playoffs year after year.  We could of course consider that to be a divisional dynasty but you wouldn't call it an overall baseball dynasty.  So let us set the parameters for this series of articles.  A dynasty, for our purposes here, is a team that wins multiple World Series championships (above two as back to back is nice but not a dynasty) within a given amount of time.  That being defined, this series will explore those teams that may have been a divisional or league dynasty but for whatever reason could not get over the hump to that World Series dynasty.

This series will show an array of near dynasties.  Some are teams that made the World Series year after year but fell short.  Others will be teams that competed right down to the end of the regular season year after year just to be beaten out.

Don't miss last week's almost dynasty: The Detroit Tigers of the 1900's.  Now let's get started with this weeks "almost dynasty": The Chicago White Sox of the 1910's.

Building the team

Charles Comiskey was the American League.  He had come a long way from sneaking away from his father's construction business to play baseball as a young man.  His talent was large.  He was a star player of the American Association.  When he felt his rights, and the rights of all players, were violated he helped form the Players League.  After one failed year he jumped to the National League where he played for Cincinnati.  It was there that events were put in motion that eventually led to the formation of the American League.  Comiskey met a news writer in Cincinnati named Byron Bancroft Johnson.  Comiskey tired of the poor treatment the players received.  Johnson, who spoke his mind about the team, was banned from the Reds facilities by the ownership who did not appreciate the honesty of the writer.

The two men bought into the Western League and by 1901 they declared themselves a Major League, renaming the Western League the American League.  Comiskey had some early success.  In the inaugural American League season, pre World Series, Comiskey's Chicago Whitestockings finished first.  A few years later they toppled the greatest team of all time when they defeated the Cubs in the first ever cross town World Series.  It was then that Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford and the Tigers took over with their "almost dynasty".  Although the White Sox finished 3rd in both 1907 and 1908, they quickly fell off and began to routinely finish in the bottom half of the league.

Of course the White Sox had some great players, several of whom would be central players in the near dynasty that would be built.  Ray Schalk, Hall of Fame Catcher, joined the team in 1912 as a 19 year old after being acquired from Milwaukee of the American Association. (One of the players included in that deal was Matty McIntyre, key outfielder and main Ty Cobb antagonist in Detroit's almost dynasty)  Buck Weaver also joined the South Side team in 1912 at 21.  Weaver would struggle with his defense at first but would become one of the best defensive third basemen in the game.  Shano Collins, one of the forgotten members of the strong White Sox teams, was 24 when he joined the team in 1910. Pitcher Red Faber joined the team in 1914 as a rookie.

One key member had nearly been part of the Tigers' almost dynasty.  Brought up with the Tigers in 1905, Eddie Cicotte saw little time.  He was sent back to the minors where his contract was sold to the Boston Red Sox in 1908.  Midway through the 1912 season, the one that would result in the Red Sox first World Series win of their own dynasty,  saw the Red Sox sell Cicotte's contract to the White Sox.

All of these key pieces were young and learning how to play the game.  They were learning it together.  By 1914 the team was starting to improve although they finished in sixth place, 30 games behind the Champion Athletics.  What the team needed was some veteran guidance.  The only veteran presence on that 1914 team was Hal Chase, not exactly an example you want your younger players to follow.

It had now been 8 years since the White Sox had won their World Series over the Cubs and Comiskey was tired of seeing other teams win.  He decided to add the pieces he needed to win now.  So he did what the modern day Yankees have done.  He started spending money.  The team added a young outfielder named Happy Felsch from Milwaukee of the American Association for $12,000 and spent an amazing (for the time) $50,000 to purchase the contract of Eddie Collins, still one of the greatest second baseman the game has ever seen.

Moving Up
The American League was in an odd place as the 1915 season started.  The Federal League had raided the league for star players.  The World Series Champion A's  had been dismantled by Connie Mack.  There was no clear favorite in the American League.  Why not the White Sox?  They started off slowly but went on a tear led by the pitching of Ciccotte and Red Faber.  By July 3 they had built a 6 game lead over the competition.  The lead slowly eroded.  By July 18 the lead had shrunk to 1/2 game.  The young players could not compete with the Red Sox dominant group of Tris Speaker, Harry Hooper and Duffy Lewis.  Boston passed Chicago on July 19 and although the White Sox would hang out near the top for a few more days they slowly started to fade.  Comiskey made one last effort at the end of August to save the season.  On August 21 he sent two players and $31,500 to the Indians.  What he got in return was a  young man who had been compared to Ty Cobb.  Shoeless Joe Jackson was only 27 and had played in the Majors for only  four full seasons by the time Comiskey acquired him.  Comiskey envisioned Jackson, along with Eddie Collins, as the key piece in what he was building.  What he was building was hopefully the greatest collection of talent the world had ever seen.  Although the White Sox fought desperately to keep pace with the Red Sox, they finished the 1915 season in 3rd place. 10 games behind Boston.

For the 1916 season the White Sox added a young pitcher who had gone 33-12 for Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League in 1915.  It was hoped that Lefty Williams would be the missing piece when combined with Ciccotte and Faber.  The offense for the season was a bit shaky.  Collins, Jackson, Felsch and Schalk were strong but First Base and Short Stop were serious issues.  Jack Fournier hit just .240 as the first baseman and Short Stop Zeb Terry hit a paltry .190. Comiskey was spending big to gather all this talent and he expected big results.  The 1916 season did not start the way Comiskey wanted.  By May 19 they were in last place, 8 games out of first.  It was then that they made their move.  In late June Williams and Faber started to round into form and the team climbed as high as 3rd place.  In an amazingly tight race where teams could jump three places in the standing with one win, the Sox reached first place on August 1 but there was never more than a 1 1/2 game lead.  When the dust settled the Red Sox stood at the top for the second straight year.  Chicago was only 2 1/2 games behind.  They were so close.  Had they gotten off to a better start they might have beaten the Red Sox. Had they gotten better production out of First Base and Short Stop they might have beaten the Red Sox.

Reaching the Goal
It was clear where the team needed to improve for the 1917 season and Comiskey would stop at nothing to get the pieces he needed.  He spent $3500 for Chick Gandil, a veteran First Baseman who had played with Cleveland in 1916. He then picked up Swede Risberg, a young Shortstop from the Pacific Coast League.  With these two additions and the close race of the year before, the team felt they had a great chance to win it all in 1917.

The pitching staff, led by Ciccotte (28-12, 1.53) and Williams (17-8, 2.97) was the reason for the team's success.  The offense, again led by Collins and Jackson, was lethal to the competition.  The additions of Gandil and Risberg had helped greatly, although a terrible late season slump would keep Risberg on the bench.  While they had stumbled out of the gate in 1916, they took off quickly in 1917, finishing the first month at 10-6, tied for first place.  By the beginning of June they had not lost any ground, but they had not gained any either.  It was clear this season would be a two team race between the White Sox and Red Sox.  Nearly every day of June was spent in first place and Chicago built a lead as large as 4 games but by July 4 they were tied with Boston again.  They built another five game lead in mid July but by July 31 they were again tied with Boston.  On August 1 Chicago took over first place again with a one game lead.  This time they would not look back.  A 22-9 August and 17-10 September gave them the margin they needed and they would win the American League easily by 8 games.

Their opponents in the World Series were John McGraw and the New York Giants.  While the Tigers had an almost dynasty in the American League, the Giants could be called an almost dynasty in the National League.  They should have played in the World Series in 1904 but McGraw refused to participate.  They won it in 1905 over the A's.  After coming close to getting back in 1908, McGraw rebuilt his team and emerged with a group that reached the World Series in 1911, 1912 and 1913 losing each of those years.  McGraw had again rebuilt his team and was now poised to do what he had not done in the previous three attempts, reclaim the World Series title.

The Giants sent Slim Sallee to the mound in Game 1 to face Ciccotte.  The first few innings were spent trading men left on base.  Each pitcher allowed men to reach base before working out of any trouble that developed and kept the game scoreless.  The bottom of the third started with Schalk grounding to third.  Cicotte then singled.  Shano Collins followed with his own single.  Cicotte was thrown out trying to reach third but Collins showed some aggressive base running and took second on the throw to third.  Fred McMullin, replacing the slumping Risberg, followed with a double and the White Sox scored the first run of the Series.  One inning later Happy Felsch hit a solo Home Run to give the Sox a 2-0 lead.  The Giants managed a run in the top of the 5th to cut the lead to 2-1 but that was as close as the Giants would get.  Following the 5th inning run, Cicotte allowed only one single and one base runner because of an error.  The White Sox looked strong in their Game 1 win.

Game 2 was Red Faber's turn to show what he could do.  He could do just fine.  He pitched a complete game, allowing 2 runs on 8 hits and allowed only one walk.  Things looked a bit shaky in the second inning.  The Giants grouped three of their 8 hits for the day into that inning and scored their 2 runs to give the Giants their first lead of the series.  It would not last long.  In the bottom of the inning Jackson, Felsch, Gandil and Weaver hit four consecutive singles to score two runs and when Giants starter Freddie Schupp walked Faber to load the bases, the Giants went to their bullpen.  Pitcher Fred Anderson avoided any additional damage for the time being and the game remained tied until the  bottom of the 4th.  Six singles scored 5 runs giving the White Sox a solid 7-2 lead.  Thanks to the nice lead and three double plays, Faber had an easy day the rest of the way and the White Sox were half way to achieving what they set out to do back in April.

Game 3 shifted the Series to the Polo Grounds in New York and the Sox sent their ace Cicotte to the mound again.  Cicotte was masterful again.  He struck out 9, pitched a complete game, allowed only 8 hits and two runs.  The only problem for the White Sox was that Giants' pitcher Rube Benton was even better.  He allowed only 5 hits and never allowed more than one hit in an inning while quieting the hot bats of the White Sox.  Weaver had two hits in three at bats, Collins had two hits and Felsch had one.  No other White Sox hitter could figure out Benton.  The Giants won 2-0.

Game 4 was pivotal for the Giants.  If they lost they would be behind 3-1 and the White Sox would be only one win away from the ultimate goal.  If they won, they would even the series and hold the momentum.  It was a rematch of Game 2 with Faber vs Schupp but it was anything but a repeat.  Schupp was sharp allowing only 7 hits and no runs in a complete game effort.  Faber, who had benefited from the offensive explosion in Game 2 had no such support in Game 4.  Faber held the Giants scoreless until Benny Kauff hit an inside the park Home Run in the fourth.  Four Giant singles in the 5th gave New York another run.  Chicago never threatened the lead and the Giants tied the series with a 5-0 win.

This was where Comiskey would find out what his money had bought him.  His team could either respond to the challenge, as the Giants had, or they could allow the Giants to capitalize on the momentum they had created.  The scene shifted back to Chicago for Game 5.  Sox fans must have asked if the team had left their bats in Chicago when they had made the trip to New York.  While they were dangerous in Games 1 and 2, their bats were silent in Games 3 and 4.  Chicago started pitcher Reb Russell and it was a disaster.  He walked the lead off batter followed by a single and an RBI double and his day was over before recording an out.  He was replaced by Cicotte who got two ground balls that McMullin and Weaver turned into outs at the plate and appeared to be out of trouble.  A single scored one more run before the inning ended and the Giants led 2-0.  Two more
runs scored when the Sox committed three errors and things looked bleak for the home team.  The Giants built their lead to 5-2 by the 7th but the Sox finally woke up in the bottom of the inning.  They scored three runs on three hits to tie the game.  One inning later they took command of the game and the series with a three run 8th. They were now just one win away.

Faber started Game 6 at the Polo Grounds.  The first three innings were uneventful.  In the fourth the Giants self destructed.  A wild throw to first and a dropped fly ball allowed the White Sox to score three runs.  The first of those three runs is one of the most memorable plays in baseball history.  Eddie Collins grounded to third but was safe on the wild throw.  When Joe Jackson hit a fly ball that was dropped Collins advanced to third.  Felsch followed with a ground ball back to the pitcher.  What should have been an easy inning for New York now turned into a comedy of errors.  Collins had been moving on contact and Rube Benton, the Giants Pitcher, threw home to catch Collins.  Instead, Collins turned and headed back to third.  The throw then went to third and a run down was on.  There was only one problem.  Someone missed their assignment.  When the ball went to third base Collins stopped and turned for home. What he saw amazed him.  No one was covering the plate.  Collins sprinted home.  Sprinting behind him was third baseman Heinie Zimmerman.  Zimmerman  dove for Collins.  Collins dove for the plate and umpire Bill Klem threw his arms out calling Collins safe.  If it wasn't so important a run it would have been comical.  Later, the reporters asked Zimmerman why he had chased Collins home.  His answer was obvious.  "Who the hell was I supposed to throw the ball to? Klem?"  Gandil followed with a single scoring both Jackson and Felsch and the White Sox went on to win the game and the World Series.

With the young core and strong pitching staff the Sox were viewed as the new dynasty.  There seemed to be nothing that could stop them.

The Lost Season
As the 1918 season neared, the US involvement in World War I deepened.  The Secretary of War issued what came to be known as the"Work or Fight" directive demanding that all men of draft age must either enlist in the military or find work that could be deemed beneficial to the war effort.  As more and more young men were being shipped over seas it became more difficult to justify playing a boy's game professionally.  The 1918 season started on time but for the White Sox, and many others who anticipated fighting for a pennant, it was a disaster.  Joe Jackson played only 17 games, Felsch only 53 games.  Collins, Risberg, Faber and Lefty Williams all missed the better part of the year in military service or war work.  The team finished in 6th place and were never a factor in the race.  This was a huge missed opportunity to solidify the dynasty but it was an opportunity  that was out of their hands.  The next missed opportunity would be of their own doing.

The Black Sox
Players were terrified that they might not have a job to return to, or worse, might not return at all.  The league worried that another year like 1918 could force the entire baseball industry to shut down.  Because of the uncertainty, all contracts were voided at the end of the 1918 season making everyone a free agent, technically.  On November 11, 1918 the war officially ended making it safe for baseball to freely start the season.  All players were returned to their previous teams (at reduced salaries) and the league picked up where it had left off.

The Sox picked up where 1917 had left off by pummeling the competition.  Surprisingly it wasn't the Red Sox that Chicago was battling.  It was a Yankees team that came out of nowhere and an Indians team that had been slowly improving themselves.  There was a small period at the end of June where there appeared to be a battle for first but the White Sox quickly righted the ship and took off for smooth sailing.  They out played everyone and cruised to the American League pennant.  Everyone wondered what could have happened the year before had the team stayed in tact.  Everyone also wondered how badly the Sox would beat the Reds.  As we know they didn't.  Without going into a break down of the series of the most infamous event of sports history I will direct you to the previous article exploring the myths of the Black Sox scandal.

The exposure and fall out from the scandal ensured that the almost dynasty of the White Sox would never come to fruition.  In fact, the White Sox organization would take generations to recover.  They would rarely compete over the next 70 years.  They would reach the World Series in 1959 and the ALCS in 1983.  Those would be the only two post season appearances in Chicago until they built a strong team in the 1990s and eventually on the World Series in 2005.

After the 1919 World Series the White Sox would not appear in a World Series again until 1959.  Who was the manager of that White Sox team?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
The answer to last week's question could actually have two answers.  My original thought when asking the question was focusing on the World Series era but after re-reading my own question I realized that I left it open to interpretation so here are the two answers. Before the World Series era the Chicago Whitestocings of 1880, 1881 and 1882 were the first team to win three consecutive NL flags.  This is the franchise that would eventually become the Cubs.

The World Series era began in 1903 when the Pirates beat the Boston Americans (later the Red Sox).  The Pirates had also won the 1901 and 1902 NL flags on the strength of Honus Wagner, Tommy Leach and Fred Clarke.  TJD's anwer is technically correct, although the first two of the three did not occur in the World Series era.

The first National League team to win three straight pennants all in the World Series era was the Chicago Cubs of Tinker, Evers and Chance.  They won the NL pennant in 1906, 1907 and 1908 and defeated the Tigers of Ty Cobb in the last two. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Almost a Dynasty: 1900's Detroit Tigers

What actually makes a sports dynasty?  Obviously a team needs to be successful for a continuous amount of time.  Every sport has that one iconic dynasty that fits the Dynasty category.  The NBA had the Boston Celtics who won nine out of ten championships.  The Montreal Canadiens won 7 of nine Stanley Cups (including six straight).  The NFL had several dynasties including the 49'ers, the Steelers, the Cowboys and, most recently, the Patriots.  Baseball itself has had the Yankees dynasties in several incarnations including the 1930's, 1950's and 2000's.

So what actually makes a team a dynasty?  There can, of course, be several definitions since there are varying levels of success.  A team can dominate their division for a decade but be bounced out in the first round of the playoffs year after year.  We could of course consider that to be a divisional dynasty but you wouldn't call it an overall baseball dynasty.  So let us set the parameters for this series of articles.  A dynasty, for our purposes here, is a team that wins multiple World Series championships (above two as back to back is nice but not a dynasty) within a given amount of time.  That being defined, this series will explore those teams that may have been a divisional or league dynasty but for whatever reason could not get over the hump to that World Series dynasty.

This series will show an array of near dynasties.  Some are teams that made the World Series year after year but fell short.  Others will be teams that competed right down to the end of the regular season year after year just to be beaten out.

So let's get started with the first "almost dynasty" the game saw: The Detroit Tigers of the 1900's.

The Detroit Tigers, B.C (Before Cobb) (1901-1905):
Creating a team out of nothing is different today than it was then.  Today there is a talent pool that exists.  Players are designated as unprotected or protected and the unprotected talent is dumped into a player draft for an expansion team.  The formation of the American League was not a civilized agreement between the two leagues to share players so that a competitive balance could be maintained.  It was a cut throat fight for survival.  The American League needed established stars with seat filling power to succeed.  The National League had those players and they were not about to allow them to walk across the street to the rival league and they sure as hell were not going to hand over a list of talent for the new league to pick from.

So what did the American League do?  They stole players.  There was no minor league farm system to feed the big league club.  There was no amateur draft.  There was very little sophistication to the scouting system.  The scouting system was usually that the team heard from someone who heard from someone who might have seen a guy play and thought he was good against non-major league caliber players.

With the birth of the American League the teams needed stars.  The Detroit franchise was no different.  Of course the team had existed as a minor league Western League team but who the hell would want to go see a minor league team calling themselves Major League?  Just because you called yourself a Major League didn't actually make you Major League.

While the Athletics stole Napoleon LaJoie and the Red Sox poached Jimmy Collins and Cy Young, the Detroit franchise got some quality players of lesser fame.  The Tigers grabbed Doc Casey and Joe Yeager from Brooklyn and Kid Gleason (he'll be in next week's article too) from the Giants.

The big signing for Detroit that year was Jimmy Barrett, the star outfielder of the Reds.  Barrett had just finished his first full year with Cincinnati in 1900 and had hit .316 with 5 Home Runs (not bad for the time) and was among the league leaders in Stolen Bases, base hits and runs scored.  It was a big "get" as Barrett seemingly had a tremendous career ahead of him.

The Tigers organization got off to a grrreat start in the premier AL season.  They won their first 5 games and 11 of their first 15.  After 15 games the Tigers were tied for first with Chicago, with Baltimore and Boston not far behind.  As late as May 24 they were still tied for first.  The summer months saw them fall out of the race and beginning with June's 10-14 record, they would not have another month with a winning record until September's 16-10 finish.  The team finished with a winning record (74-61) and finished a respectable third place.  They were 8.5 games behind the league champion Chicago (4.5 behind second place Boston).  There was no World Series so Comiskey and the White Sox were the Champs.  Barrett's numbers were not what they were in Cincinnati but he did have some success.  Although Cy Young and Iron Man McGinnity seemingly led the league in every pitching category, Detroit's pitchers were the core of their success.  Roscoe Miller seemed to be their ace with a 23-11 record but Ed Siever at 18-14 also played a big part in the team's success.

The team did little to improve themselves for the 1902 season.  It showed in the standings.  May 24th seemed to be the important day for the 1902 Tigers, as it had been in 1901, as it was the last day the Tigers were tied for first.  The drop off from there was much more drastic this year.  The Tigers lost 13 of 20 and fell to 5th by mid June.  They would not climb any higher than that and they would actually get much worse.  They would lose 8 straight from July 6- July 15.  That wasn't even their worst.  They would lose another 11 straight (and 18 of 20) in a terrible stretch of August and another 9 of 10 in late September .  They spent a great deal of time in last place and would finish 30.5 games out of first place in 7th place.  The team that finished behind them was the Baltimore Orioles who had lost half of their team to the National League half way through the year.  Barrett again had a decent season but he was far from the player they expected when they stole him from the Reds.Miller (6-12) and Siever (8-11) were ineffective for much of the year and the pitching was terrible as no Tiger hurler had a winning record.  There was some hope as a young pitcher named George Mullin showed some promise.

It was clear something needed to happen to improve this team.  At times you can look back at a move you thought was insignificant but turned out to be the beginning of something special.  The puzzle piece may look like just a gold corner piece but when all the pieces are in place you can see the whole picture of the trophy. The war between the two leagues continued into a third season and as the American League became more successful they had the opportunity to offer more money and more stars were willing to jump leagues. This is how Detroit landed their first bona fide star: Sam Crawford.

Crawford did it all.  He had good speed, hit tremendously, fielded like a gold glove outfielder and had some of the best baseball instincts in the game.  Crawford had played for the Reds since 1899 and had made an immediate impact on the Detroit team.  In addition to adding Crawford for the 1903 season, Pitcher Wild Bill Donovan, who had won 25 games for Brooklyn just two seasons prior, jumped to Detroit.  These two players along with George Mullin were the first three pieces of what would eventually become the Tigers' almost dynasty but you would be hard pressed after the 1903 season to say you saw it coming.  The 1903 cats started at 6-2 before losing 6 straight (and 8 of 9)  By August 30th they were 15 1/2 games behind the league leading Red Sox and would finish the year in 5th place, 25 1/2 behind the team that would win the first ever World Series.

Few major moves were made between the 1903 and 1904 seasons but one trade would pay dividends in the future.  In January 1904 the Tigers traded Billy Lush, an aging and diminishing outfielder, to the Cleveland Naps for "Twilight" Ed Killian.  Another piece of the almost dynasty was now in place.  The 1904 season, however, was a disaster.  The team fell into seventh place during an 8 game losing streak and never climbed higher than sixth the rest of the year.  They finished in 7th place, 32 games behind the leader.  Although pieces were in place to build a winner there was still work to be done. Help was on the way and wherever that help went chaos followed in his wake.

The Peach Ripens (1905-1906)
The Tigers signed a young native of the Springwell section of Detroit to pitch in the 1905 season.  He would pitch in only three games that year, going 1-1, but Eddie Cicotte would have a big impact on next week's "almost dynasty".

The morning of August 23rd saw the team in 6th place, 15 games out of first.  The next day the team signed a kid from Georgia that would forever change the face of Tigers' history and baseball history.  The young man had been playing for Augusta in the South Atlantic League when he was finally offered a contract  for the big leagues.  He signed on Thursday, August 24th.  He would make his debut a week later. He had to stop home in Georgia for his father's funeral first.  What should have been a triumphant moment for Tyrus Raymond Cobb was a dark and tragic one instead.  The treatment that rookie's receive at the hands of veterans' made his mood only darker. All rookies were taunted, teased, treated like dirt.  They all took it as part of the experience, something everyone went through.  Cobb took it personally.

When Cobb made his debut of August 30th, the Tigers were still in 6th place.  From that point on they would go 26-14 and although they were never really a factor in the pennant race, they finished third.  Cobb would not be the factor in that turn around but his potential was there and his determination was increased.  He promised himself that when the dust had settled, the veterans who had harassed him would be forgotten and Ty Cobb would be on top.  The player that topped that list for Cobb was Matty McIntyre another outfielder.

The pieces were mostly in place now.  Heading into the 1906 season, Outfielder Davvy Jones was added to the roster, as was Catcher Boss Schmidt.  With Jones, Cobb, Crawford and Matty McIntyre it was a crowded outfield.  The man who became expendable was good old Jimmy Barrett.  He had played a total of five years with Detroit, hit .292 and stole 92 bases during those years but he never quite led the Tigers the way it had been envisioned.  On May 9, he was sold back to the Reds.  With Crawford an established star in the league, that left three outfielders to fight for two spots and fighting was something Cobb excelled at.

He won the starting assignment and took the league by storm.  He may not have had the impact as a rookie that someone like Joe DiMaggio would have in immediately leading his team to a pennant but Cobb certainly  put the fighting spirit into the Tigers.  Fans in Detroit may not have come out in droves to see the Tigers in 1906, and their 6th place finish certainly would not have excited many for the 1907 season but there was something happening here that many overlooked.  They did so at their own peril.

The Almost Dynasty (1907-1909)
The Tigers made only one move in the off season, picking up Cleveland's First Baseman Claude Rossman.  He was not a player that struck fear in the heart of an opponent.  He didn't need to be.  The 1906 season had been a learning experience for Ty Cobb and for all of the Tigers.  They had learned to play together.  Cobb and Crawford were not the best of friends off the field but on the field they played like one person.  They could work a hit and run better than anyone.  They used silent commands that even their own teammates could not figure out to call for a double steal that almost always worked.

The American League had ignored the Tigers as a contender for years.  The White Sox, Red Sox and Athletics had dominated the league.  Few even looked in the continuously second division Tigers direction when the 1907 season kicked off.  The Tigers ended June and started July with back to back losses.  They sat in fourth place, 6 1/2 games behind the leaders.  At the top of the league were the Athletics, a surprising Cleveland Naps and the White Sox.  The Tigers were about to pounce.  After sweeping a July 4th double header from the lowly Browns, the Tigers started to creep closer to the front. A 19-9 month put them in second place, just two games out of first.  The top four teams were all within 2 1/2 games of each other.  It wasn't first place, but it was the first time most people could remember the cats being in the race this late in the season.  They climbed into first place by 1/2 game on August 5th but bounced back out a few days later.  It appeared that it had been a nice try but when they fell back to third place, 2 games back, by August 17 with a three game losing streak their critics started saying "I told you so".  In years past this team would have kept falling (or not even been here to begin with) but this was Cobb and Crawford's team  and they would be damned if that would happen now.

From August 24- August 31 the team won 8 straight and they entered the last month of the season in first place, 1 1/2 games ahead of Philadelphia, 2 1/2 ahead of Cleveland and 3 1/2 ahead of Chicago.  There was still plenty of time for the Tigers to choke on the bones of their competitors but these kitties now had claws and they fought the competition with everything they had.

They clung to a slim 1/2 game at the end of play on September 26, just marginally ahead of the Philadelphia Athletics.  Up next on the schedule, after having just finished a trip to Boston, was a three game showdown in Philadelphia.  It was do or die for both.  Connie Mack and the A's were fully expected to declaw the Tigers.  It ended a bit differently.  The Tigers won the first game, putting them up a game and a half.  Worst case scenario they left town only 1/2 game behind, which was still better than expected.  When game two was rained out the plan was to play two the next day.  The A's took a lead into the top of the ninth.  The next three outs could change the  pennant.  With a runner on base Ty Cobb stepped in to the  batters box facing A's ace Rube Waddell.  Cobb launched a two run Home Run to tie the game at 8.  According to legend Connie Mack  was so shocked he fell off the bench and knocked over the bat rack.  Although it didn't win the game it has been said that it won the pennant.  The game remained tied into the 14th when controversy erupted.  Harry Davis hit a fly ball toward Crawford.  Crawford tracked the ball near the crowd (the crowd was so large the overflow crowd stood on the outfield grass) and seemed to settle under the ball.  Then the ball dropped to the ground.  Davis was standing on second in scoring position, poised to score the winning run.  Meanwhile Cobb and Crawford surrounded the umpires and argued vehemently.  After a few moments the umpire pointed to Davis and held a fist in the air.  Now it was Davis's turn to erupt.  The call was crowd interference.  Turns out one of the police in the outfield to keep order had scrambled to avoid Crawford, causing him to drop the ball, or so they said, and so the game continued tied.  Into the 15th.  The 16th. The 17th.  In the days before night games and stadium lights, it was too hard to see.  So the umpires ended the game in a tie.  The final game was cancelled and the lead in the standings  remained the same.  The Tigers had only seven games left and they were all against the league doormats.  They won five straight and took the pennant.

Their opponent in their first ever World Series was an angry group of Cubs with something to prove.  The Cubs had won 115 games in 1906 only to lose the series in five to their crosstown rivals.  Now they were back in the World Series and had no interest in taking an opponent lightly.  Game 1 ended in a 3-3 tie after a bizarre bottom of the 9th.  (Even more bizarre there had been questions before the Series on what would happen to the player's shares if one of the games ended in a tie.  Turned out it would go in the player's favor leading to rumors about the bizarre ninth inning being fixed to pad the players' wallets).

The Tigers struck first in Game 2 with a second inning triple by Rossman and a single by Catcher Freddy Payne.  The lead didn't last long.  The Cubs had three straight singles and a walk in the second to tie the game.  The teams traded turns in stranding base runners for two innings. It was constant tension.  Double plays, hit batters, everything but runs scored.  The Cubs opened the 4th with a single. A sacrifice bunt from Jack Pfister advanced the runner.  With a runner on second Jimmy Slagle singled, giving the Cubs the lead.  Slagle then stole second and scored on a double by Jimmy Sheckard.  That quickly the Cubs had a 3-1 victory and a lead in the series.  The Tigers' stars (Cobb and Crawford) were a combined 1-7 with a hit by pitch.

Game 3 quickly got out of hand for the cats  They did not get a base runner until the top of the 4th, an infield single.  The Cubs scored first in the second inning.  They scored three more in the bottom of the 4th for a 4-0 lead.  Two Tiger singles in the 5th were wasted by a double play and the Cubs dominated the Bengals.  It was a 5-1 win and 2-0 series lead.  Crawford drove in the only Tiger run and was hitting .308 in the series. Cobb, however, was 1-4, dropping his average to .167.  Johnny Evers was hitting well over .450 for the Cubs.

The Tigers needed a win badly in Game 4, the first ever World Series home game in Detroit.  The Cubs had two singles and a stolen base in the top of the first but a caught stealing saved the Tigers for the moment.  The home town team had something to cheer in the 4th when Cobb tripled and scored on a Rossman single.  Suddenly the Tigers had life.  Fans started to think positively.  If they win today the Cubs are only up one game.  They could win the next two at home and still have a chance.  It didn't last long.  Evers led off the 6th with a ground ball to short and it looked like they had finally gotten him out, until Shortstop Charley O'Leary made an error on the ground ball.  A walk, a sacrifice and a two run single by the pitcher gave the Cubs the lead.  They added to it in the 7th with three runs on two hits and an error.  The Cubs took control of the series with 6-1 win.

It was basically over at this point, although they had to play one more game.  The Tigers  fought hard.  No team had ever been swept in the World Series and the Tigers didn't want to be the first.  The Cubs scored in the first and second to take a 2-0 lead.  It would holdup.  The Tigers would not.  Claude Rossman would hit .450 for the five games (including the tie game).  No other Tiger hitter would be even close.  Crawford hit .238.  Germany Schaefer .143.  Boss Schmidt .167.  And Cobb?  The man who had energized the team all year hit just .200.  He was the missing man.  Clearly it was more than just Cobb that had caused the poor performance against the Cubs but it was Cobb who took the blame.  The Tigers had missed their first chance to stake a claim to the first dynasty of the World Series era.

Cobb went home and worked hard all winter long in Georgia.  The Tigers, feeling confident after their first World Series appearance, came back nearly unchanged.  No team had repeated as American League World Series representatives and when the Tigers started off at 3-9 and fell to the bottom of the league there was little to indicate that would change.  After a 17-7 May they were at the top of the league.  It was an up and down season.  While the Cubs, Giants and Pirates fought back and forth in what would eventually end up with Merkle's boner, the Tigers, White Sox and Indians battled right down to the end themselves.  Cobb would anger his team mates when he disappeared for five games in mid season to get married.  The problem was he didn't tell any of his team mates or the management his plans and so in the middle of a pennant race the best player in baseball disappeared.

Cobb's relationship with his team mates was like an exposed nerve.  The slightest movement could lead to unspeakable explosions of pain.  He had fought, physically and verbally with nearly every team mate but the key antagonist seems to have been Matty McIntyre.  The worst part of that relationship was that they played side by side.  "Why should I help that no good, son of a bitch?" was McIntyre's response to his managers question of why it was that he never seemed to hustle on balls hit between the two in the outfield.  Cobb felt the same and routinely threatened McIntyre with bodily harm.

The White Sox' Ed Walsh won 40 games in 1908 but his  loss in his attempt to get 41 in the last series of the year with the Tigers gave Detroit their second trip to the World Series.  It would be years before baseball would see another pair of pennant races this close.

The Tigers scored first in Game 1 of the 1908 World Series, which again opened in Chicago.  The joy of thinking the Cubs would fall in line with Detroit's plans was quickly changed.  The game went back and forth. The Cubs took a 5-1 lead into the 7th but Ed Ruelbach suddenly lost his control.  A three run inning cut the Cubs' lead to 5-4.  The Tigers got two more in the 8th (thanks to two errors) to take a 6-5 lead.  Johnny Evers grounded to first to start the inning and with just two outs left the Tigers breathed a sigh of relief, two outs too soon.  Six straight singles, a double steal and another single later the Cubs led 10-6 and went on to take Game 1. Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance picked up where they had left off the year before.  In Game 1 the three were a combined 5-13, scored 4 runs, drove in 2 and stole 4 bases.  It was a devastating loss for Detroit.

Game 2 was a great pitcher's duel.  Neither team could get a man on base, let alone score.    Entering the bottom of the 8th Wild Bill Donovan had allowed only one hit.  Things fell apart in the bottom of the 8th.  The big hit was Joe Tinker's two run Home Run but it was not the only hit.  It was a 6 hit, 6 run inning and the Cubs took Game 2.

Game 3 was again crucial for Detroit.  The man the Tigers had counted on to be the man the last two post seasons showed up.  The Tigers scored first on a Cobb RBI single in the first but three Tiger errors in the 4th gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead.  The Tigers faithful had seen this movie before.  They were sure it would be the same until the Tigers scored 5 in the sixth inning.  When the dust settled the Tigers had actually won their first ever World Series game to cut the series lead to 2 games to 1.

Game 3 was the last offensive explosion of the year for the Tigers.  The Cubs would shut them out in the next two games to win their second straight World Series.  The Tigers had now established themselves as the best team in the American League, head and shoulders above any team the league had ever seen, yet their dynasty was non -existent.  They were 0-2 in the World Series.  Cobb had certainly done better this year and it was much more competitive than the year before.  Had a few things gone differently, a few hits in tight situations, a few less errors, and they could have been World Champions, twice.

The Last Best Chance (1909)
The Tigers again made few moves during the off season, although they appear to have considered Claude Rossman at First Base their weak link and they looked to improve at that position.  Where they did add a player was at the opposite end of the infield at Third Base.  They purchased the contract of George Moriarty from the New York Highlanders.

The team got off to a quick start in 1909, winning their first five.  By July 25 they had not fallen out of first place for even a single day and had built a 7 1/2 game lead. They quickly squandered that and within a week the red hot A's had cut the lead to 2.  A week later they were tied with the A's.  By  the last week of August they had fallen from first place.  It was on August 13 that the panic truly set in and the Tigers made a few roster moves.  They sent utility man Red Killefer and Second Baseman Germany Schaefer to the Senators for Second Baseman Jim Delahanty.  Delahanty was one of five brothers (Ed, Joe, Frank, Tom and Jim) who played Major League Baseball.  Ed had been the most successful, but also the most tragic.  He had fallen from a moving train passing over Niagara Falls (stories vary over whether he killed himself or fell accidentally while drunk).  Jim was a solid addition.  On August 20, with Claude Rossman hitting just .260, the Tigers finally made the decision they had struggled with in the off season and traded Rossman to the St.Louis Browns for their first baseman Tom Jones.  What they got out of Jones was similar to what they had gotten out of Rossman, nothing spectacular, but the defense seemed to be the real upgrade.  With Delahanty they got a veteran presence, a defensive improvement over Schaeffer and a man with a knack for key hits.

Detroit caught fire and just as quickly as the recent swoon had started, it ended with a 14 game win streak.  Suddenly the lead was right back up to 5 with just a few weeks away.  Things seemed to be rolling and the team seemed to be clicking.  But this was the Tigers of Cobb and Crawford and it wouldn't  be a season if there wasn't some form of Cobb infused drama and it happened just as the 14 game streak was ending.  As the story goes, Cobb returned to the Cleveland hotel where the team was staying and decided to take the elevator up to his floor. He was told by the elevator operator, an African American gentleman, that the elevator did not operate at that hour.  While any normal human would have just taken the stairs, Cobb's response was to physically attack the man.  He would not be told by an inferior that he could not do something he wanted to do and he began pummeling the man.  A security officer near by jumped in to help the man and things got even worse.  Cobb pulled a knife on the security officer and stabbed him several times.  Two more employees pulled Cobb off the man but he was severely injured.  Criminal charges and civil charges were filed against Cobb as the team left town. Earlier in the year he had been threatened with a lifetime ban after spiking Frank "Home Run" Baker of the A's in an ugly incident at Third Base.  In Al Stump's Biography of Cobb he wrote "in numerous ways, Cobb's 1909 season was the most brilliant yet reprehensible any player ever lived through."Despite the distraction, something his teammates were getting all too familiar with (and tired of) the Tigers went on to win the American League by 3.5 games.

Their opponent this year was the Pirates.  It was a face off of the legendary Ty Cobb vs the legendary Honus Wagner.  Neither had ever won a World Series, although the Pirates' participation in the inaugural World Series seemed ages ago at this point. Authors David Finoli and Bill Ranier did a great job of documenting the public's interest in the match up in their book When Cobb Met Wagner: The Seven-Game World Series of 1909.  It was viewed as good vs evil.  The saintly, beloved Wagner vs the hated demon Cobb.  The perception of the contrasts can be seen in the World Series promotions of the day.  Wagner is drawn as calm, smiling almost relaxed.  Cobb is pictured angry, aggressive and snarling.

On October 8 the Series opened.  Still fearing arrest in Ohio for the previous month's hotel attack, Cobb had to take train routes that would keep him out of the state.  While his Tiger teammates took a train straight into Pittsburgh Cobb traveled by connections and stop overs.  His teammates, mostly Crawford and Matty McIntyre, were furious with Cobb for the distraction.  They had been through this twice before and they wanted nothing more than to come out of this World Series a winner.  They felt the Cobb issue was just the sort of thing that could cause their superstar to lose focus on the enemy Pirates.

The Pirates surprised a lot of people by starting a young Babe Adams in Game 1.  It was the right decision.  4 Tiger errors and 8 Tigers left on base gave the Pirates a 4-1 win.  Two hit batters by Tiger pitching led to some testy feelings and set a tone for the Series.

The Tigers had been through this before.  They did not want to repeat history for a third time but the Pirates made it look easy by scoring two quick first inning runs in Game 2.  The Tigers could have accepted their fate as a three time loser.  Instead they came out swinging.  A two run double by Boss Schmidt in the 2nd inning tied the game.  Two innings later they scored three runs on 2 hits and an well as a steal of home by Cobb gave them the lead and they wouldn't look back.  They tied the series at one game each with a  7-2 win.

The series moved to Detroit for Game 3.  While the Tigers returned directly,  Cobb again had to take his roundabout trip.  The two teams faced off again on October 11.  The series was tied but the Pirates offense wasted no time in changing that.  4 Pirate hits helped by 3 Tiger errors led to a 5-0 lead for the Pirates after just a half inning.  Detroit would continue to boot the ball around and wind up with 5 errors in the game.  Meanwhile,  the Tigers continued to fight against the fear of losing another World Series.  In the 6th the Tigers grouped 5 hits and a Pirates error to plate 4 runs cutting the lead to 6-4.  The Pirates would add two more in the top of the 9th and would be glad they did. The Tigers scored a run in the bottom of the 9th cutting the lead to 8-5.  With Cobb on second, Donnie Bush on third and only one out, Crawford stepped up to the plate.  A base hit would cut the lead to one and would give the Tigers momentum.  Instead, a ground ball out scored one and moved Cobb to third.  The score was now 8-6 and Jim Delahanty was the Tigers' last hope for the day.  They needed to score Cobb from third and extend the inning.  Already with some key hits, Delahanty was someone Tigers fans would have wanted at the plate.  He made solid contact and sent a line drive to left field.  The way fielding had gone in the first three games, nothing was sure.  Cobb was tearing down the line on contact.  Delahanty was running hard out of the box hoping for extra bases.  Instead, Pirates Outfielder Fred Clarke moved over and caught the ball ending the game.  The Pirates now led the series 2 games to 1.

The series had been punctuated to this point by the poor fielding of the Tigers and the poor bat work by Cobb and Crawford.  Although he had some hits, including an RBI double in the Game 3 ninth inning rally, Cobb was  hitting only .273.  Crawford was even worse at .154.  The Tigers offense was coming from lead off man Davvy Jones, Shortstop Donnie Bush and Delahanty.  Unfortunately, Bush and Delahanty were giving away almost as many runs as they were creating with their poor fielding.  The Tigers, in their third World Series, had never led a series.  If  they were to finally win this they would need to string some post season wins together.  There was no better place to start than at home in Game 4.  George Mullin started for the Tigers.  He had suffered through arm injuries all season long but this day he either felt no pain or just ignored it, holding the Pirates to only 5 hits.  The errors that had plagued the Tigers to this point were forgotten.  The fielding woes, however, shifted to Pittsburgh.  The Pirates made 6 errors (they had more errors than hits in the game) and the Tigers scored five runs.  The series was tied again at 2 games each with three games left to play.

It was back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 and again Cobb took a round about way of getting there.  Some started to see the wear tell on Cobb's face and he seemed to be exhausted.  This series was becoming exhausting for everyone.  The longer the series went, the more tense it got.  Every run could be the one that tilted the series one way or the other.  Every error could be the one that cost a team the glory.  This group of Tigers had the extra pressure of two previous failed seasons.  The papers were filled with stories of the power of Cobb, Crawford and Delahanty.  If the Pirates hadn't learned it yet, the Tigers lead off hitter Davvy Jones was just as dangerous.  He proved it in the top of the 1st inning with a lead off home run to center field.  Despite this being in the dead center of the dead ball era, this series was high scoring.  This game would follow the trend and the Pirates erased the Tigers lead in the bottom of the first.  They would add runs in each of the next two innings but the Tigers would tie it up again with two in the 6th.  Just like the Series, this game was back and forth.  It was in the bottom of the 7th that the game changed.  With one out and two on, the Pirates struck.  Fred Clarke cleared the bases with a three run Home Run.  The Pirates would add one more before the inning ended.  The Tigers tried to fight back and when Crawford hit a Home Run, Tiger fans hoped he was finally coming out of his poor performance.  They would not get any closer and the Pirates would win Game 5 by an 8-4 score, taking a 3 games to 2 lead for the series.

Pittsburgh was now one win away from winning it all.  The Tigers were one loss away from having nothing to show for the last three seasons.  Pirates batters wanted to end this thing now and they got it started the right way with four straight hits, including a two run double from Wagner, giving them a 3 run lead before an out was recorded.  Crawford, showing signs of life, got the Tigers a run in the bottom of the inning with an RBI double.  A two run fourth tied the game again and the Pirates had a fight on their hands.  The Tigers scored two more making it 5-3 heading into the 9th inning.  If they held on they would force the first ever deciding game.  If they gave the game away, the Pirates would be World Series champions.  Tigers fans were confident entering the 9th with a lead.  The confidence was soon shaken.  Two straight singles and an error scored a run for the Pirates.  There were runners on the corners, no one out with the season in the balance.  Things looked bleak for the Tigers.  The Tigers made some defensive adjustments before the next batter, a move that would pay off.  First Baseman Jones had been severely injured on the previous play, knocked out cold to be precise, so Sam Crawford moved to first base, replacing Jones.  Catcher George Gibson stepped in to bat.  He didn't need much to tie up the game and when he made contact Tigers fans held their breath.  The ball was hit on the ground to Sam Crawford at first.  Bill Abstein tore down the line from third.  Crawford had to make a decision and it was one that could change the way this series went.  He could try to turn a double play, allowing the run to score but giving the Tigers two outs with the bases empty.  Or he could gamble and go home, hoping to beat Abstein and keep the lead.  He made a quick decision.  He threw home.  Abstein was out, the lead was in tact but the danger was still on the base paths.  The fate of the season was in the bat of Ed Abbatichio of the Pirates, pinch hitting for the pitcher.  With two strikes Abbatichio swung through a pitch.  For some reason Chief Wilson, the runner on second, broke for third.  It was a useless attempt.  He could have scored just as easily from second on a clean base hit.  Instead, he was out on a steal attempt.  Double play.  Threat over.  Game over.  Tigers' season saved...for now.

No World Series had ever gone to a seventh deciding game before. The build up around the country was tremendous.  As the teams prepared for the big game there were other events going on around the world.  President Taft accepted the resignation of the US Ambassador to China and the President of Mexico was given the key to the city in El Paso, TX.  In Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina there were reports of entire towns being destroyed by violent storms.  27 were confirmed dead with the death toll "expected to reach 50" and more than $1 Million  worth of damage was done by the storm.  None of that mattered in the cities of Pittsburgh and Detroit. It would end today and no one knew how.

The Pirates threatened in the first but left 2 men on base.  The Tigers got a base runner in the first when Donnie Bush was hit by a pitch but he was caught stealing to end the inning.  Pirates fans worried when lead off hitter Bobby Byrne left the game.  He had been hit by a pitch to start the game.  With a 0-0 tie and everything on the line, it was no time for the backups to get in the game.  The Pirates would strike first in the second inning and it could have been much worse.  They left three men on base but scored twice.  The Tigers tried to mount a response but a walk and a double became useless when the runners were stranded.  Still, it was only 2-0 and the Tigers had fought back all series long.  The teams traded turns stranding runners in the third with the Tigers pinch hitting for their pitcher in their frame.  The Pirates' fourth inning quieted the crowd even more.  Two walks and two singles gave the Pirates 2 more runs and a 4-0 lead.  Two more stranded runners for the Tigers and the crowd groaned as the Pirates inched closer to a World Championship.  What had been billed as a battle between Wagner and Cobb was being decided by the two stars today.  In his first two at bats (taking us up to the 5th inning)  Cobb would fly out and ground back to the Pitcher.  In Wagner's first three at bats (taking us up to the 5th) Wagner had walked twice and flew out.  It was the top of the 6th that would officially decide the battle and the Series.  The frame opened with a quick out.  Tommy Leach then doubled and Fred Clarke walked bringing Wagner to the plate.  The inning could not have been more symbolic.  These three had been the Pirates core three since before the World Series era.  Now they had the chance to win the city's first World Series title.  Wagner did just that.  He sent a triple into the gap.  As Wagner neared third Crawford made a desperate throw to get an out.  It went wild and Wagner scampered home giving the Pirates a 7-0 lead.  Just as would happen in the Tigers' next appearance, 25 years later in 1934, Tigers fans would need to sit and watch as it all came apart.

The missed chances and the end of the era
The decline came quickly.  As the Tigers "almost dynasty" crumbled, Connie Mack and the Athletics climbed over the ruble and built their own real dynasty.

Crawford would play until 1917 and would continue to put up Hall of Fame numbers.  His 309 career triples are still the most all time.

Jim Delahanty, the man who had so many key hits in the 1909 series, played for the Tigers until 1912.  In 1914 and 1915 he played in the Federal League but did not return to MLB when the Federal League closed up shop.  He would forever live in the shadow of his older brother Ed.

Ty Cobb, the most famous Tiger of all, would play into the 1920's.  He would fight charges that he had conspired with Tris Speaker and Smokey Joe Wood to throw games and would forever be a polarizing figure in baseball history.  Known as one of the greatest players of all time, he was also one of the most hated players in baseball history.  Cobb would make a final desperate effort to win a World Series by signing to play for Connie Mack's Athletics.  They would not win with Cobb.  The year after he left they would go on to back to back World Series wins and a third appearance.

The Tigers' "almost dynasty" was one of missed opportunities.  No American League team had repeated as Champions.  No team had ever lost back to back (let alone three in a row) World Series before.  For decades Cubs and Red Sox fans played the "what if" game while waiting for a Championship.  The Tigers' "almost dynasty" is filled with these.  What if Cobb had played better in the first World Series.  What if Crawford and Cobb could have gotten along, how much better could they have been?  What if they had acquired someone like Delahanty a year or two earlier?  What if Cobb wasn't exhausted from traveling nearly 1400 miles in one week to get what took his team mates a fraction of the time?

While the Tigers' three straight AL Championships are nearly forgotten, what is remembered from this time is the dominance of the Cubs, Athletics and Giants.  The "what if" game is not unique to this team.  As you will see next week, the "what if" game is prominent in the decades that followed.

As mentioned in today's article, the Tigers were the first American League team to win three straight American League pennants.  Who was the first National League team to do the same?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
The American League was founded by Ban Johnson.  He served as the league president  from the start of the league through 1927.  The National League president when Landis was put into office was John Heydler.  Heydler was a long time part of the NL hierarchy.  He was a personal secretary to long time league president Harvey Pulliam.  When Pulliam committed suicide in 1909 Heydler served as a temporary president.  He took over as a full time president in 1918 and served until  1934.