Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Some Kind of Anniversary
2004-12-10 21:51
by Alex Belth

Book Excerpt

The Yankees lost to the Red Sox in exquisite fashion in 2004. It was horribly painful for Yankee fans and amazingly wunnerful for Red Sox Nation. Although the Sox haven't made a custom of beating the Yankees (when both teams have been good) during the past hundred years, they did send New Yorkers home unhappy in 1904, in spite of the considerable efforts of Ban Johnson and Jack Chesbro. The following excerpt--the first of two parts--from Yankees Century details that fateful season, when the Boston-New York baseball rivalry was just beginning.



By Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson

"I would have given my entire salary back could I but had the ball back."
-Jack Chesbro

If the Yankees failure to contend in 1903 had caused some joy among some factions of Tammany Hall, elsewhere there was only frustration. Ban Johnson, Frank Farrell and William Devery were not happy. The new club had proven problematic, a failure in almost every way. All interested parties were determined not to let that happen again. They'd invested too much in the immigrants to let them flounder.

Fans were less than impressed. American League baseball in New York, while cheaper than National League ball, hadn't been very impressive. The Yankees had failed to create their own constituency, or steal substantial numbers of fans from the Giants. Yankee rooters were foundlings who couldn't afford to attend games at the Polo Grounds, gamblers who would bet on anything, anywhere, anyhow, or political cronies of Farrell and Devery taking a day off.

They weren't drawing fans from downtown. Getting to the ballpark was inconvenient, and would be for several more seasons until the subway opened. By and large, the Yankees were fighting the Giants for the same group of fans - and losing badly.

The Giants were clearly the better team. They'd finished second in the National League in 1903. Manager John McGraw was the toast of New York, feisty and combative, and New Yorkers of Irish heritage turned out at the Polo Grounds to see the McGraw and fellow Irish players like Dan McGann and Roger Bresnahan.

In most major league cities the majority of fans were either Irish, or, in the Midwest, German, as were most of that games' first generation or two of stars. Fans came to the ballpark more to see their countrymen succeed than representatives of their city.

The Yankees lacked both ethnic appeal and the cache that comes with success. They would have to draw fans from elsewhere and appeal to America's next wave of immigrants, those from Italy and elsewhere in Europe. But for now, the Yankees needed to win in order to give fans a reason to see them play.

Fortunately for the 1904 Yankees, the American League, like Hilltop Park, was not yet a level playing field. Nor would it ever be, a situation the club eventually would learn to exploit. For now they still needed the help of Ban John son and he did everything he could to ensure a championship for the immigrants in 1904. The result would be one of the most compelling pennant races in league history and the beginning of one of professional sports greatest rivalries.

While the Boston Americans were asserting American League superiority by besting the Pittsburgh Pirates in the very first "world's series" in 1903, the Yankees retooled. Tannehill, despite a record of success in Pittsburgh, had been a disappointment in 1903, finishing with a record of only 15-15. Meanwhile in Boston, young Long Tom Hughes had come out of nowhere to go 20-7 for the American League champions.

To Johnson, a swap of the two pitchers between the two clubs made perfect sense, for it would serve to strengthen New York by weakening Boston, giving the Yankees a shot at a championship by sending Boston back into the pack. With one of his toadies, Henry Killilea, in charge of Boston but already looking to sell out, Johnson made the transfer in early December.

The New York press smiled broadly while their Boston counterparts screamed foul. The deal looked like a steal. Hughes was an emerging star, five years younger than Tannehill, who had looked for all the world as if he were beginning a precipitous decline. But Johnson wasn't finished.

He cut another deal, disguised as an outright purchase with the Browns, sending hurler Harry Howell to St. Louis and delivering Jack Powell to New York. While Howell had pitched relatively well in limited duty in 1903, side-armer Powell was the poor man's Cy Young, one of leagues' great ironmen. He'd finished fully 33 of 34 games he'd started for the sixth place Browns in 1903, winning fifteen. In essence New York had traded their fourth and fifth starters for two of the league' better pitchers, much more for a lot of less. With Chesbro anchoring the staff, and Griffith himself still valuable, the Yankees appeared to have the best pitching in the league. No less an authority than former National League great Cap Anson quickly pronounced them "a great team, one of the best."

And on opening day, April 14, that pronouncement appeared to be confirmed. Fifteen thousand curious fans braved the cold and saw the Yankees make the defending champion Boston Americans look like amateurs. New York erupted for five first innings runs off Cy Young as Boston threw the ball around the infield and dropped fly balls. Jack Chesbro easily out-dueled him the rest of the way, giving up only two runs on inside-the-park home runs that that on another day Keeler and Dave Fultz might well have caught. The Yankees won easily, 8-2, in a victory that seemed symbolic. They seemed poised to supplant the Bostonians as A.L. champions and relished the opportunity.

There was already some bad blood between the two clubs. In only their second meeting in 1903 Dave Fultz had run down Boston pitcher George Winter in a play at first base. That set the tone. Subsequent meetings between the two clubs had been marred by rough play, and the trade of Hughes for Tannehill caused Boston to eye the New Yorkers warily - they knew full well that New York was Ban Johnson's current favorite. The rigged deal that cost them Hughes sparked a feeling of martyrdom in Boston that only swelled in ensuing decades.

But after opening day New York stumbled. They dropped the next two to Boston as Hughes was raked by his former teammates and crowds were disappointing. The opening of the subway station adjacent to the ballpark was delayed as Tammany grappled over the profits. It was still little more than a hole in the ground, connecting to nothing. Fans were tiring of the long trek uptown, a journey that took them directly past the Polo Grounds, where McGraw's Giants were a powerhouse. Many chose to end their journey there. Thus far, Ban Johnson's Manhattan well was coming up dry.

By the time the two clubs met again in the first week of May, New York trailed 13-3 Boston and seemed poised to drop even further back. They hoped to use the series to turn their season around and gave it special emphasis. Clark Griffith told the press "We are not afraid of the world champions." They weren't, but they weren't as good, either. The Yanks lost the first game of the three-game set when Tom Hughes continued the make the Tannehill trade look bad by misplaying a series of Boston bunts into defeat.

But the next day Jack Chesbro pitched for New York. No pitcher since has ever done what Chesbro did in 1904. It is impossible to overstate his value to the team in the 1904 season. No pitcher ever - not Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Joe Wood, Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax, or Roger Clemens has ever had the influence on a team and on a pennant race to match that of Jack Chesbro in 1904. And none ever will.

After Powell pitched New York to a win in the series finale, Griffith bristled with confidence. "We did what we said we would," he commented. "Keep your eye on the Invaders. We took two from the world champions and can do it again." By season's end, his desire would prove prophetic.

Yet not even Chesbro could stop the Boston juggernaut on his own. With the exception of Powell, no other pitcher on the staff could pitch well enough often enough to help, and injuries to key players like Elberfeld slowed the Yankees. Over the next month Boston stretched out their lead while New York struggled to keep pace.

Ban Johnson grew concerned. Another Boston runaway could be devastating to attendance league-wide, but nowhere more so than in Manhattan. The Giants were killing the Yankees at the gate.

The new club needed still more help. Devery and Farrell were already upset at the result of the Hughes-Tannehill trade. It had backfired and only made Boston stronger. They insisted on an adjustment. Johnson agreed.

He first gave them some help on the mound. In mid-June he arranged the acquisition of Harvard University's Walter Clarkson, baseball's reigning phenom, brother of the great John Clarkson, who had won 327 games from 1882 thru 1894. The Sporting News favorably compared him to the Giant's young star pitcher Christy Mathewson. But Johnson was just getting warmed up. With another big series with Boston on the horizon in late June, New York needed help now.

They got it. On the morning of June 18, New York fans awoke to discover that star Boston outfielder Patsy Dougherty was now the property of their Yankees, acquired in exchange for an undisclosed amount of cash and a sickly rookie infielder Bob Unglaub. Unglaub, too ill to play, was hitting .211, while Dougherty, who could run and hit with anyone in the league, entered the season with a career batting average of .336. In contemporary terms the transaction was the rough equivalent of getting an Ichiro Suzuki for a Clay Bellinger. It left a gaping hole in Boston's outfield and provided New York with some instant offense. Over the remainder of the year, New York had the best record in the league, and, finally, a player who appealed to New York's Irish. No deal in American League history had ever been so one-sided, and few since have approached it.

Yankees fans snickered and nodded knowingly at one another as all Boston howled. The effects of the deal were immediate and dramatic.

One week later the Invaders made their initial foray into Boston, led by Dougherty, leading off and playing left field. He was, as The Sporting News described him, "The central figure of the game." New York took two of three to draw to within a game and a half of Boston. Ban Johnson had his pennant race, and with the Giants running away with NL, there was the possibility that the New York clubs might meet in another lucrative "world's series." That promised mind-boggling profits for Devery and Farrell, no matter which team won. After all, the house is always the biggest winner.

For the remainder of the season, Boston and New York were dance partners in a marathon neither wanted to share with the other. In early July, the two clubs met again in a four-game set. Boston took the first three, defeating Chesbro twice to stop his win streak at fourteen. But in the finale Dougherty continued to cause Boston to rue his transfer, going 4-for-5 as New York averted disaster by winning 10-1 and keep Boston's lead down to a still manageable 3 games. Then Ban Johnson gave his favorites even some more help.

Johnson traveled to Washington, where the Senators were was in trouble both at the gate and in the field. The Sporting News warned that Johnson's visit meant, "There is sure to be something doing in Ban's immediate vicinity." Johnson admitted he was there to "strengthen the Senators whenever the opportunity offered."

It soon came knocking, led by Johnson's beckoning hand. Long Tom Hughes had fallen into Clark Griffith's deep, dark doghouse. And although Chesbro and Powell, with occasional help from Griffith, were performing yeoman-like work, the club still needed pitching help, as Griffith had little faith in untested youngsters like Ambrose Puttman and Clarkson, whose genealogy simply hadn't translated into wins.

Pitcher Al Orth was wasting away with the last place Washington Senators, who had opened 1-16. Orth, a crafty change-of-pace pitcher known as the "Curveless Wonder," had led the National League with six shutouts in 1901 but had missed the bulk of the 1904 season with an illness. Healthy again, his return meant nothing for the hapless Senators. They already trailed Boston by more than thirty games.

That made him expendable, and perfect for New York. So Johnson arranged another trade, sending Hughes and another warm body to the Senators for Orth. With nearly two months before their next scheduled meeting with Boston, New York began stalking the champions.

Chesbro remained magnificent, pitching and usually winning two or three times a week, and proving nearly as valuable at the plate with timely hitting, and even winning one game with a ninth-inning steal of home. Powell was pitching almost as often, and Orth was nearly unbeatable. Ever so slowly, the New Yorkers drew ever closer to Boston.

Finally, on August 5, the Yanks broke through. While Boston was losing to Detroit, Orth shut out Cleveland, 5-0, to put the club in first place for the first time in club history.

Although Chicago surged past both clubs five days later, the White Sox soon dropped back. For the next month New York and Boston stayed in lock step with one another as New York clung to a narrow lead.

The Yankees - and Johnson - wanted still more and made yet one more move that they hoped would secure a New York pennant. Brooklyn pitcher Ned Garvin had long been the best pitcher on a series of bad teams. For Brooklyn in 1904, although his record was but 5-15, his ERA was a spectacular 1.68 -- better than Chesbro's and one of the best in baseball.

But Garvin was a drunk. In 1903 he'd been jailed for taking a shot at a bartender in Chicago. In mid-August, as Brooklyn traveled by train to St. Louis, he and a few teammates got roaring drunk. When club secretary tried to calm them down, Garvin beat him to a pulp and then proceeded to lead his merry band in the near total destruction of their Pullman car. Brooklyn released him, and no other NL club even considered picking him up.

But Johnson and New York saw opportunity. Johnson had publicly decried the "rowdyism" that he believed was endemic to the NL and had positioned the AL as the moral antidote to the NL's decay, but that was all hyperbole. In true Tammany form, Johnson and the Yankees saw their opportunity and took it. They signed Garvin, hoping for several weeks of sobriety. He pitched for the first time on September 10 and had Washington beat before tiring in the ninth in an eventual 3-2 loss. Still, he gave the rest of the staff a needed breather.

The Yankees faced Boston again on September 14 for a scheduled five games in three days as the pennant hung in the balance. The champions led New York by percentage points, 79-49 to the Yankees 77-48. But with the acquisition of Orth and Garvin, the flag appeared to be waving New York's direction.

But the world's series was a non-issue. The Giants had wrapped up the NL pennant, but John Brush wanted nothing to do with a post-season meeting with either American League club. His reasons stretched all the way down his arm and into his wallet.

Brush had been the final holdout in the peace agreement between the two leagues and still held Johnson, Farrell, Devery, their ballclub and the American League in general in disdain, believing each had cost him money. He didn't want to risk losing to any of the above parties. He arrogantly announced that the Giants were "content to rest on our laurels."

Although New York and Boston both tried to goad him into changing his mind, and several New York papers eventually presented him with petitions asking that the series be played, Brush remained steadfast. The games between New York and Boston became the next best thing to a world's series.

The New Yorkers were confident. Griffith told the Evening Journal, "My team is in the best condition it has been in all year," and bragged of his pitching rotation of Chesbro, Powell, Orth and Garvin, saying, "I cannot see at all where the Bostons have us beaten at all on pitchers." Hundreds of brave New York fans followed the club to Boston for the series.

They were not disappointed, but neither did they return to New York with the pennant in hand. For over the next three days New York and Boston played each other not five, but six times, before some 50,000 fans. Boston emerged leading New York by all of two ten thousandths of a percentage point, with a record of 81-51, .6126 to New York's 79-50, .6124. And it was even closer than that.

In a driving rain, Chesbro won the first game 3-1 over Bill Dinneen as Boston's infield made seven errors. In the second game of the doubleheader, Powell and Gibson battled to a 1-1 draw over five innings before the game was called due to a combination of rain, fog and darkness. The next day, Tannehill got revenge over his former teammates and beat Griffith 3-2. Powell then pitched for the second day in a row and went the distance against Norwood Gibson, but for the second day in a row darkness ended the game with a 1-1 tie.

The two clubs tried again Friday, September 16. An estimated 25,000 fans crammed Boston's Huntington Avenue Grounds, surrounding the playing field in a raucous sea of barely sane baseball humanity, sitting along the baselines, standing behind ropes in the outfield and even perching on the outfield fence. Chesbro, pitching for the third time in five days, beat Dinneen 6-4 in the first game. Then Cy Young, who'd been too ill to pitch thus far in the series, pulled himself from his sickbed and salvaged a tie for Boston, beating Garvin 4-2 in the final game. In fifty innings of baseball across three days each club won two games, lost two, and tied two. Boston had scored 14 runs on 42 hits with 14 errors, while New York had scored 15 on only 36 hits - eight by Dougherty, who continued to pound Boston -- and made but ten errors. Yet all those fifty innings had proven was that the standings were just about right - the margin between the two clubs was microscopic.

The replay of the tied contest was added to the four-game series between the two clubs that ended the season. Even as the Yankees embarked upon a grueling seventeen-game road trip on September 18, the two teams remained joined at the hip for the remainder of the season. As September faded to October, Manhattan was half-mad with baseball fever.

The Yankees' pursuit of the pennant had finally captured the imagination of fans -- from midseason onward they had drawn nearly as many fans as the Giants and a rising tide of voices still called for a post season meeting between the pennant winners. Yankee president Joseph Gordon issued a public challenge to the Giants, as did Boston owner John I. Taylor. After Brush tired of saying no, he allowed McGraw to respond. He did so in no uncertain terms, releasing a statement that said, "When I came to New York . . . the team [the Giants] was in last place . . . I have worked to bring the pennant to New York [and] I for one will not stand to see it tossed away like a rag . . . I know the American League and its methods . . . They induced me to join them and as a souvenir of my experience they still have my money. . . Never, while I am manager of the New York club and while this club holds the pennant, will I consent to enter into a box office grafting game with Ban Johnson and company." For Yankee fans then, the American League pennant became everything. And for the ballclub, everything depended on Jack Chesbro.

Over the final three weeks of the season, he pitched ten games, starting nine. Griffith didn't trust Garvin, and on October 3 Orth hurt his arm. The Yankees entered the final five games of the season on the strength of Jack Chesbro's right arm.

The season ending set began on October 6 with a single game, to be followed by doubleheaders on both Saturday October 7 and Monday October 9 as blue laws prevented play on Sunday. Boston came into New York with a record of 92-57 to the Yankees 90-56. The winner of the series would take the pennant.

As originally scheduled, all five games were supposed to be played in New York. But Farrell and Devery had not lost sight of the reason they had bought the club in the first place. Earlier in the year, when it appeared as if Boston would win the pennant going away, Farrell and Devery had looked to recoup at least a small portion of their anticipated losses. They agreed to rent out their ballpark on October 7 to Columbia University for use in their football game versus Williams College and Boston agreed to host the game. The decision may have cost the Yankees their first pennant and a possible dynasty.

Even with Johnson's help, the pennant race had worn the Yankees out. To no one's surprise, Chesbro - with two full days of rest - drew the assignment for New York in the first game at American League Park in search his 41st win in his 46th start.

Such heavy use of his ace had not gone unnoticed and Griffith had received a measure of criticism. But Farrell and Devery - and Ban Johnson - were calling the shots. A pennant for the Yankees in only their second season was an opportunity none of the men wanted to miss. Chesbro didn't complain about his workload, at least publicly. He relished every moment he spent on the mound and was beginning to believe in his own invincibility.

On this day, he succeeded again. Before ten thousand fans who braved a blustery autumn chill, the Yankees won a hard fought struggle that one Boston paper stated "reminded [fans] of football." Runners and fielders contested every play and collided hard and often. Dougherty again led New York's attack. He dashed to a double in the fifth when his short fly fell between shortstop and left field, went to third on Keeler's perfect bunt, and scored on Elberfeld's fly ball to put New York ahead 2-1. Then in the seventh he beat out an infield single to first, stole second off Boston's vaunted catcher Lou Criger, then scored standing up on Jimmy Williams' single. Chesbro scattered but four hits and after he retired pinch hitter Duke Farrell to secure the 3-2 New York win, the New York Herald reported, "the rooters surged onto the field and tried to surround Chesbro. He started to sprint for the clubhouse but he had not gone far before he was grabbed and raised on the shoulders of some of the lusty lunged enthusiasts." It was the first, but not the last time, such a thing would take place on the Yankees home field. New York moved into first place needing only to split the remaining four games for the pennant.

Clark Griffith blinked away tears of joy after the game, telling the press "There's nothing like taking the starter. We've got Boston on the run . . . Powell and [Ambrose] Puttman are pitching tomorrow."

The two clubs immediately left for Grand Central Station to travel to Boston. Chesbro was told to remain behind and rest up for the doubleheader on Monday - if the pennant came down to one of those two games, Griffith wanted him available to pitch. But Chesbro had another notion. He followed his team to the station and confronted Griffith on the platform.

"Do you want to win the pennant or not?" he asked.

The manager looked hard into Chesbro's steely eyes.

"I'll pitch and I'll win," he said. Griffith then motioned him onto the train.

The following afternoon, as the Boston Post described it, "an ocean of people," poured into the Huntington Avenue Grounds for the Saturday doubleheader with the season on the line. The 30,000 fans represented fully one-tenth of the Boston population.

Once again, Dougherty reminded Boston fans of what they had lost. He singled off Bill Dinneen to open the game, and then Keeler bunted for a hit to move him to second. He went to third on Elberfeld's comebacker, and scored on Williams' flyball for his league best 113th run of the season, 80 in only 106 games with the Yankees. But it would also prove to be his last of the season. The clock would soon strike midnight for Dougherty.

Chesbro nursed the 1-0 lead through the first three innings as Boston went down quietly, failing to get a hit and reaching base only once. But in the fourth, Chesbro's previous 421 innings, including twelve in the previous twenty-four hours, started to take affect.

Boston shortstop Fred Parent reached first when his ground ball took a bad hop past Williams at second. After he was sacrificed, Boston player-manager Jimmy Collins singled up the middle and Parent scored to tie the game. Then Buck Freeman drove the ball to left. Dougherty misplayed the ball into the overflow crowd standing in the outfield for a ground rule double. LaChance grounded to second, but instead of taking the sure out, Jimmy Williams threw home. Collins slid in safe to put Boston ahead.

Chesbro started to crack. Knowing he should have been out of the inning already, the extra effort exhausted him and Boston started hitting him hard. Three hits and a walk gave Boston four more runs and a commanding 6-1 lead before they were finally retired. As Chesbro trudged from the mound before the jeering Boston masses, he was met by Griffith. His day was done. Walter Clarkson prepared to mop up.

The Yankees played the remainder of the game as if eager to get to game two, and fell hard, 13-2. After the final out, Boston remained on the field as Cy Young took the place of Bill Dinneen opposite Yankee starter Jack Powell. In less than a minute, game two was underway.

Determined to get a lead, Griffith had his club running from the start. But time and time again over the first four innings, Criger cut the New Yorkers down, squelching several rallies. Entering the fifth, the game was scoreless.

Boston's Hobe Ferris led off with an infield single to Williams. Criger sacrificed him to second, bringing up Cy Young.

The old pitcher, although known for his arm, was also a clutch and clever batsman. When Powell left a pitch over the plate, he lifted it to right center. Ferris waited, watching, as center fielder John Anderson took the fly over his shoulder. As he spun to throw, Ferris took off.

Throw and baserunner arrived at third at the same time. Conroy dug for the ball amidst the spikes of Ferris and it squirted past, rolling slowly into the mob massed only ten feet or so back in foul territory. Conroy scrambled after it, but the ball reached the roaring crowd. Ferris jumped up and trotted home, scoring what even the Boston papers described as a "cheap run." But it counted. New York fell, 1-0.

In diminishing light, the next two innings passed quickly. The Yankees failed to reach Young, and after the pitcher struck out to end the seventh inning, umpire Jack Sheridan called the contest because of darkness. With the sweep Boston now needed only a single victory to win the pennant.

(To be continued...)

Copyright 2002, Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

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