Saturday, June 6, 2015

Oh, How Different Things Might Have Been: Johnny Evers and the 1910 Cubs

History is fixed.  It is unchangeable.  Nothing can change the past.  You can watch Carlton Fisk hop down the line a million times and he will still waive the ball fair.  No matter how many times Todd Worrell touches that bag, Don Denkinger is still going to call Jorge Orta safe.  Bill Buckner is never going to field that little roller behind the bag and Mitch Williams will not look back over his shoulder to see Joe Carter's fly ball being caught.

The winners and losers in the history of the game will always be winners or losers.  But the series of articles beginning this week will explore some "what if's".  What if a player who missed the World Series hadn't gotten injured?  What if a play that turned a World Series had been completed differently?

Last week we looked at Rube Waddell and the 1905 Philadelphia Athletics.  This week is a look at Johnny Evers and the impact he might have had on the 1910 World Series.

It was nothing but bad news on October 3, 1910 in Illinois.  The headlines of the Rock Island Argus told it all:

 "29 Missing on the New Hampshire: Uncertain yet as to the extent of the disaster in New York: Bodies not found".

"Whole Town Fears Dietz: Girl, badly wounded as result of gun play, and Son held under arrest."

 "Seventy Die in Mexican Mine"

"Explosives Used in Los Angeles Crime Bought in Frisco: Third Bomb Placed at Home of Owner of the Times Fails to Explode".

 "No Banquet for Browne Thought Of: Beckenmeyer it was a scheme to shield Jackpotters: Letters All Fakes"

"Mail Pouches Robbed of Gold"

For two cents you could read all of it.

Pushed to smaller space on Page 3 was an article in the bottom center column.  "Chicago At Last Clinches Pennant".  The article went on to say "while the race practically has been over for more than a month it required yesterday's victory officially to eliminate New York, the runners up.  Chicago clinched a tie with New York but did so at the cost of a broken leg for Johnny Evers. second baseman, who as a result will not be able to play again this season."

Tinker to Evers to Chance.

It was a great piece of poetry.  It was a way for a Cubs fan working as a sports writer at the New York Times, surrounded by Giants fans, to rub it in a little bit.  A nice, quick little dig at the rivals of his beloved team.  It has come to symbolize a raging debate over the "trio of bear cubs".  The three may have been better off had it not been published.  There are those, many of whom have likely not studied the impact these three had on the era, who claim they don't belong in the Hall of Fame.

Chance was known as the "Peerless Leader". Tinker was the man who could hit Christy Mathewson better than anyone.  Yet, it was Evers who was the spirit, the drive, the fire that kept the Cubs fighting.  Evers didn't take any part of the game lightly.  Everything was a battle for him.  Every ball called to an opposing batter was a needle to Evers. Every strike a victory.  Every close call that went against the Cubs was a match to a powder keg with Evers personifying the explosion.    It may have been Yogi Berra who said it ain't over until it's over but it was Evers who actually lived it.

In 1908 when the Giants had all but won the pennant it was Evers who saw that slim. one in a million chance for the Cubs to save their season.  As the Polo Grounds was over run by delirious fans it was Evers who screamed for the ball to force Fred Merkle at second base.  It was Evers, who went to bed every night with a candy bar, a copy of the Sporting News and the baseball rule book.  He drove himself to know every part of the game, every bit of information.

His numbers were not amazing by today's standards.  Some, those who go just by the SABRmetrics, may have a point about Evers not belonging.  The great thing about the game is that success in baseball goes well beyond numbers.  The Cubs knew, as the rest of the baseball world knew, that the Cubs' success, domination is a better description, of 1906-1910 was only possible with Evers.  John McGraw, who almost never said something flattering about anyone, said a player like Evers only comes along once every ten years.

Chance was the manager but it was Evers who directed the defense.  Evers would peer into the Catcher's signs and position the fielders on every pitch.  He was the one who would call out a player for a mental lapse.  He was the most important player on one of the greatest teams of all time.

The Cubs were ahead 3-1 in Cincinnati on October 2.  They needed just a few more innings before they celebrated a return to the World Series.  Johnny Evers was on second when Solly Hoffman hit a ball into Center field.  Evers was moving on contact.  He could tell it would get down and he wanted to get that insurance run.  It was a meaningless run.  He turned third and watched the catcher.  He looked for any sign of where the throw would be.  Was it going to be close?  Should he slide to the outside?  inside?  Would there be a collision?

He started to go into his slide but noticed the catcher was not set up for a throw.  Evers would score easily.  Already half way into a slide he changed his mind.  It was the wrong choice.  His spikes stuck in the ground as his momentum kept him moving forward.  There was an audible crack.  Loud enough for the fans in the stands to hear.  Evers fell to the ground.  As he fell he had the presence of mind to slap the plate.  He would be damned if he was going to lose a run despite the circumstances.

The fact that touching the plate was a thought for him was amazing.  He had broken his leg, as the Rock Island Argus  had reported.   What they did not report was the severity of the injury.  It was a fractured fibula.  The bone had broken through the skin and the tendons in the ankle had twisted.  While the team popped champagne and celebrated, Evers lay in a hospital bed in agony.  Frank Chance sent some champagne to Evers as a symbolic way to include him in the celebration he had done so much to make possible.  Evers loved the gesture and was forever grateful but the reality quickly set in.  The fracture was severe.  Surgery would be needed and, worse, in order to untwist the tendons and set the leg properly the doctors would need to break the leg in another place.  That meaningless insurance run had now put Evers' career in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, the Cubs slogged through the rest of the season.  They lost the following day, possibly with quite a few players battling headaches and nausea brought on by the celebration.  They would win 8 of the final 10 games and were set for the World Series against the Athletics.

The Cubs were favored.  And why not?  With Chance and Tinker still in the lineup they were joined by the great Cubs lineup of the back to back World Champions from 1907 and 1908.  Johnny Kling, Wildfire Schulte, Solly Hoffman and Jimmy Scheckard.  They were all there.  The pitching staff was still strong.  Ed Ruelbach, Orval Overall and of course the great Three Finger Brown.

Their opponents were young and, most of them, in their first World Series. The A's had the $100,000 infield of Harry Davis, Jack Barry, Eddie Collins and Frank "Home Run" Baker.  The outfield was strong with Danny Murphy, Bris Lord and Amos Strunk.  Their pitching staff was a veteran group.  though only two pitchers would be used in the whole of the series.

Evers' replacement was Heinie Zimmerman.  In Game 1 he would go 0-3 with two strikeouts.  Zimmerman was not the best liked player on the team.  Zimmerman, much like Evers, was a passionate person.  He once had an argument with Scheckard in the clubhouse.  Zimmerman ended the argument by throwing a bottle of ammonia at Sheckard's face.  It was feared Scheckard might be permanently blind but fortunately he recovered.  Zimmerman was not a bad player but he didn't bring the focus and the drive  of Evers.  He also couldn't hold players accountable the way that Evers could.

Led by Eddie Collins and Harry Davis the A's took Game 2.  Zimmerman did not play badly but the rest of the Cubs did not play their normally sharp ball.  Three Cubs errors helped the A's score two unearned runs on the way to a 9-3 win.  With Evers on the field, directing the action, would the errors have happened?  Possibly.  But with Evers on the field the defensive positioning might have been better and the fear of a public shaming by Evers might have forced the players to focus and bear down a little more.

It was felt that the Cubs would have a better chance to win when they returned home for Game 3.  The Spokane Press gathered quotes from the experts such as Cap Anson, Fielder Jones, Ty Cobb and Joe Tinker. The general consensus was that  the Cubs had been flat, without energy in the first two games.  They would need to become more energized if they were going to have a chance. (Clearly the energy lost from Evers' presence was missed greatly.) Zimmerman went 0-4 in the first game in Chicago with another strikeout.  It was not all his fault.  When the opposition scores 12 runs on 16 hits it can't all be one man's fault.  The papers were finally starting to focus on the missing piece. The Marion Daily Mirror of Ohio had a large picture of Evers after Game 3 saying that the betting community was ready to switch sides, thanks in large part to Evers's absence.

Zimmerman went 1-4 in Game 4, although he also grounded into a double play and was caught stealing.  The Cubs did manage to take the game in 10 innings to give them one in the win column but the fire just wasn't there.

It all ended on October 23rd as the A's blasted the Cubs 7-2.  In the end Zimmerman went 4-17 with 0 runs, 2 RBI and three strikeouts.  The batting average was not great but it wasn't the reason the Cubs had lost.  The Cubs lost the series way back on October 2nd when they lost their fighting spirit.  Johnny Evers may not have won the World Series for the Cubs but he certainly would have kept the teammates accountable for the sloppy, uninspired play.

Although Evers did not help the Cubs win the 1910 World Series, he did win one more World Series before calling it quits.  What year did he win his last World Series and what team was he with?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
In the days before Hilton's and Sheratons and Five Star accomodations, teams stayed in the best available accomodations   In many hotels, these accomodations included only one bed, meaning players not only slept in the same room, they slept in the same bed.

Waddell had a habit of drinking down some corn whiskey and munching on animal crackers while lying in bed.  The crumbs that Waddell left in the bed drove Schreckengrost crazy.  Apart from just rolling in crumbs,  the crumbs attracted the roaches and ants in the less than cleanly hotels.

Schreckengrost would continue to room with Rube, but only if it was put in writing that Rube not be able to eat animal crackers in bed.

1 comment:

  1. What a gory injury, Blegh! Also, that "no animal cracker" clause in your trivia answer was funny. It's amazing how poorly the players were treated back then compared to now with all the 5 star accommodations and red carpet events. Interesting read!


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