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October 28, 2008

You Could Look It Up

Called for Anticipation?

by Steven Goldman

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The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright-
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

-Lewis Carroll, "The Walrus and the Carpenter"

Once upon a time, Baseball actually reversed the scenario Carroll described in "Through the Looking Glass." They suspended a World Series game for darkness, which was odd (to borrow Carroll's phrasing) because it was the middle of the day. This is one of the few antecedents to Monday's suspended World Series game, except that the decision was handled with less calculation and forethought, necessitating the commissioner to give away the game's receipts to charity to earn back the public's good will.

The 1922 World Series was a repeat of the all-Polo Grounds battle between the rising New York Yankees, represented by Babe Ruth, and the old-guard New York Giants, epitomized by gruff manager John McGraw and featuring Frankie Frisch, Ross Youngs, and Dave Bancroft. In both seasons, Ruth was the main gate attraction, but in 1921 injuries had knocked him out of the lineup after the fourth game of the last best-of-nine series, and the Giants had gone on to win in eight games.

It was not automatically clear which team was the best going into the series. The Yankees had gone 94-60, edging a surprising St. Louis Browns team by one game in a bitterly fought race won purely on the strength of a 14-8 head-to-head record. The Browns were the better team on paper, with the league's best offense and pitching staff, but not only could they not beat the Yankees with consistency, they underplayed their Pythagorean projection by five games. The Yankees were just adequate offensively, in large part because suspensions meant that they played large chunks of the season without Ruth and fellow corner outfielder Bob Meusel. In a move derided in St. Louis as dirty pool, the Yankees made a trade with Boston's Harry Frazee on July 23, replacing the still-competitive bat but declining glove of third baseman Home Run Baker with that of Jumping Joe Dugan-mid-season trades were not an accepted part of the game at this time, and the move led to the adoption of the trading deadline. No such adjustment had to be made to the starting rotation, the team's rock, with solid hurlers Bob Shawkey, Waite Hoyt, Bullet Joe Bush, Carl Mays, and Sad Sam Jones.

The defending champion Giants had a somewhat easier time of it. They opened the season on an 18-4 hot streak, but with injuries to third baseman Heinie Groh and the permanent suspension of pitcher Phil Douglas, the team began to drift at midseason and fell behind the Cardinals. Thanks to a strong offense aided by McGraw's tinkering (early injuries in center field led to his instigating a productive platoon of Casey Stengel and Bill Cunningham) and yet another Boston-New York trade derided in St. Louis-this time the Braves sent pitcher Hugh McQuillan southward-the Giants recovered to finish seven games ahead.

McGraw was not only determined to win the World Series rematch-he was always determined to win everything, so this is, perhaps, redundant-he also wanted to teach Ruth a lesson. Though McGraw was not an ossified thinker and had adapted to the lively ball, he felt that Ruth was overrated and was detracting from the purist's version of the game. He would, he claimed, call every pitch of the Series against Ruth.

Game One, in which the Giants were the home team to their tenants, the Yankees, began with Joe Bush against Giant's southpaw Art Nehf. In a game that would haunt Miller Huggins over his few remaining years, the Yankees carried a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth only to see Bush suddenly, and to Huggins' eyes suspiciously, fall apart, with consecutive singles to Bancroft, Groh, Frisch, and Irish Meusel (Bob's brother), and a sacrifice fly by Ross Youngs, all of which combined to plate three Giant runs. McGraw, always a bit more sensitive to the idea of relief pitching than his contemporaries, allowed swingman Rosy Ryan to close out the game for the win.

Game Two was the controversial number. This time the Yankees got to be the home team, with Bob Shawkey taking the rubber against righty Jesse Barnes. The Giants victimized Sailor Bob right away, as one-out singles by Groh and Frisch (a popup to left that dunked in between shortstop Everett Scott and left fielder Bob Meusel) in the top of the first were followed by an Irish Meusel homer. In the bottom of the frame, a Bancroft error allowed Dugan to reach second, and after Ruth tapped out to first, Wally Pipp singled Dugan home. In the bottom of the fourth, Yanks' second baseman Aaron Ward hit a solo homer off of a Barnes curveball, bringing the Yankees to within one run.

The 3-2 score persisted into the bottom of the eighth. Ruth doubled with one out; after Pipp's fly out to deep center allowed Ruth to tag and move to third, Meusel doubled, chasing the Babe home. The score was tied, but with unfortunate repercussions for the future, Wally Schang grounded out to third, ending the inning. The Giants went in order in the top of the ninth. The Yankees threatened in the bottom of the frame but failed to score. The Giants went in order again in the top of the tenth (Bancroft singled, but was out at second trying to stretch it into a double). Ruth, Pipp, and Meusel went down meekly in the bottom of the inning on two foul popouts (Ruth and Meusel) and a tapper to first.

And then the game was over, called on account of darkness. There was one problem with this: it was approximately 4:45 on the afternoon of October 5. While it wasn't quite midday, it was also a long way from sunset; roughly 45 minutes of daylight remained. Officially, umpire George Hildebrand made the call, bowing to concerns that a long half-inning might mean that there would not be time for a full frame to be played. With Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis in attendance, Hildebrand asked for an official ruling in support of his position and received the Judge's blessing. The players headed off the field.

The crowd, estimated at 37,000, went nuts. Given the conditions, the termination of the contest for lack of light seemed hard to swallow, and no effort had been made to explain the reasoning to the crowd. Though games were often called on account of darkness, including World Series games (most recently an 11-inning tie between the Giants and Red Sox at Boston in 1912), it was assumed that baseball was trying to pad the receipts by getting in an extra World Series game. There had been rumors of such things in the past, with teams intentionally falling down to extend the life of the Fall Classic, and with the 1919 World Series very close in the rearview mirror, the fans were prepared to believe the worst. It took a police escort to get Landis safely out of the Polo Grounds.

Both managers were, of course, disappointed. "It was a tough break not to win," said McGraw. "We deserved to win." "We didn't lose, yet we didn't win," Huggins said. "I am confident we would have won had the game progressed. I think the majority of the spectators are of the same belief." As for the combative Landis, he was, shall we say, upset:

You're all cowards... I never saw such a damned thing in my life. And those darned fools thinking I called that game to make a little more money for the club owners. As for that blankety-blank umpire, what was he thinking about? I may not be the smartest person in the world, but I've got sense enough not to call a ball game on account of darkness in the middle of the afternoon. (David Pietrusza, Judge and Jury)

Making an impulsive public relations decision, Landis decreed that the receipts from the tied game (minus the players' cut) would be turned over to charity, a sum in excess of $120,000. That seems to have done the trick-Landis was notably ignored by the crowd during Game Three, played the next day. Fortunately, there was little controversy in the contest, with Giants spot-starter Jack Scott, an improvisational pick by McGraw, pitching a four-hit shutout. Game Four saw McQuillan take the mound against submariner Carl Mays, the latter of whom pitched so well that Huggins buried him from then on. As with Bush in the first game, one (perhaps suspicious) bad inning did the Yankees in, Mays blanking the Giants in all of his eight innings save the fourth, when he was pounded for four runs; this erased a 2-0 Yankees lead. McQuillan made the score stand up, allowing a single run in the seventh but turning aside a ninth-inning rally on two Yankees base-running errors, including Pipp's wasting his leadoff double when he attempted to advance to third base on Bob Meusel's grounder to third.

The Yankees would need to win Game Five to keep their chances at their first pennant alive, Bush going to the hill for his shot at redemption (or, Huggins fulminated, his shot at a payoff). With the Yankees leading 3-2, Bush once again fell apart in the bottom of the eighth, smacked around for four hits and an intentional walk, as the Giants scored three runs to take a 5-3 lead. The Yankees went in order in the top of the ninth, and the Series was over.

McGraw had won the last of his three championships (two more pennants were to come), and he also earned a year of bragging rights over Ruth. Challenging his pitchers to give Ruth nothing but low curves, McGraw induced the normally disciplined Bambino to chase, resulting in two hits in 17 at-bats and no home runs. Baseball had escaped another black eye-though Landis never forgot the humiliation. The deciding seventh game of the 1925 World Series between the Washington Senators and Pittsburgh Pirates at Pittsburgh was played in a heavy downpour. The day appeared to clear after a long delay and the game commenced, but the rains soon returned and turned the field into a cross between a rice paddy and a flume ride. After seven innings, the game was tied 6-6, giving Landis a chance to call the game without affecting the outcome of the World Series. He refused, instructing the Pirates' grounds crew to sop up the water with sawdust after every half-inning. The commissioner felt that he had had enough bottles thrown at him for one lifetime, thank you very much.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

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